With the 2022 regular season over, it is that time where we go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this past season.
Today, we look at utility man Mark Mathias.
In late July, the Rangers made a somewhat surprising move, sending reliever Matt Bush to the Milwaukee Brewers for a pair of players. Pitcher Antoine Kelly was pegged as the lead piece in the deal, a pretty nice lefty pitching prospect who had some promise and some relief risk. The other guy who came over was largely glossed over — Mark Mathias, a 28 year old 4C guy with minimal major league experience.
Mathias seemed at the time like AAA depth, as well as someone who wouldn’t necessarily stay on the 40 man roster all that long. In mid-August, however, the Rangers brought Mathias to the majors, swapping him out for Elier Hernandez in the righthanded bench bat role on the roster.
Mathias came to Texas with an ugly 2022 major league slash line, hitting .125/.118/.313 in 17 plate appearances in a couple of brief stints with the Brewers earlier in the year, though he had slashed .318/.421/.518 on the year for AAA Nashville pre-trade, and had a 946 OPS in 8 games for the Express before being called up. In any case, upon being called up, Mathias hit the ground running, picking up a pinch hit double in his first plate appearance for the Rangers, then going 2 for 4 with a homer the next day in his first Rangers start.
Mathias was on fire his first month with the major league club, slashing .370/.453/.761 in 53 plate appearances. That couldn’t last, of course, and he ended the year on a cold streak, going 1 for 19 with two walks and 10 Ks over his final nine games. Still, for the season, Mathias slashed a more than respectable .277/.365/.554 line for the Rangers, getting the bulk of his playing time at DH while also playing each of the four corners.
Mathias was a third round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2015, taken out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, where he had led the Big West in batting average in 2014 as a sophomore. You will be shocked to know that, coming out of college, he was drafted as a second baseman with a strong hit tool and approach but questions about his power and where he’d land defensively.
Mathias’s first full pro season was decent, as he spent most of the year at high-A, putting pu a 764 OPS, before getting a late season promotion to AA Akron. He struggled to stay health the next couple of years, both at Akron, where he didn’t hit much. Getting what I’m guessing was a social promotion to AAA Columbus, he improved in 2019, slashing .269/.355/.797 while splitting time between 2B and 3B.
Cleveland shipped him off that offseason to Milwaukee in exchange for teenage catcher Andres Melendez. Mathias got 36 plate appearances in 16 games for the Brewers in the COVID year of 2020, putting up a 639 OPS, but then missed all of 2021 due to a torn labrum in his shoulder that required surgery.
Despite being drafted in 2015, Mathias has accumulated just 2243 plate appearances over 558 games between the majors and the minors, with his career high being the 506 plate appearances he logged in 2016. Mathias missed most of 2017 to go with his lost 2021 season and the pandemic year of 2020. One can not unreasonably believe that has impacted his development, and see the potential for more growth than would normally be expected from a player his age.
That being said, his 919 OPS with the Rangers in 2022 would seem to be something of a mirage. The 93 point spread between his wOBA with the Rangers in 2022 (.394) and his xwOBA with Texas (.301) was the highest on the team. Interestingly for a guy whose approach and hit tool are his calling card, he struck out at a higher rate than average while with the Rangers — whether that is an adjustment in his approach to try to tap into more power, or just a matter of struggling with major league pitchers, I’m not sure.
ZiPS projects Mathias with a 97 wRC+ for the 2023 season. That’s not terrible for a righty bench bat, but for a 4C/2B guy whose glove at the positions isn’t anything special, I’m not sure that he brings much value to the role.
Mathias has survived on the 40 man roster to this point, and would seem likely to head to spring training vying for a bench role. The Rangers’ ongoing search for a COF/DH or two would seem to potentially impact Mathias’s chances of making the team — if they add no one, or a lefty bat who may be more of a platoon guy, the odds of him sticking improve. The fact that he provides some defensive versatility also helps, particularly given that Marcus Semien can slide over to shortstop when Corey Seager gets a day off, and thus the UIF doesn’t necessarily have to be able to handle shortstop.
So Mathias could stick around for a little while. Or he could go to AAA — he has an option remaining — or be cut loose if a 40 man spot is needed.