Jorge Mateo isn’t going to hit a bunch of home runs. He doesn’t have a particularly impressive batting average or on-base percentage either, and his defense is only slightly above average.
So why is he still on the team with the best record in the American League? One main reason: his elite speed. He ranks in the 99th percentile and was tied for the sixth-fastest Sprint Speed in MLB entering Tuesday’s game, according to Statcast, with a 30.1 ft/sec.
When he does get on base, he’s scoring nearly 60% of the time. That’s nearly double the percentage of Adley Rutschman, who leads the team in on-base percentage.
Mateo also leads the team with 25 stolen bases — 11 more than the closest player.
“He’s a major, major factor,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
Every run matters for a team hoping to go deep into the postseason. Mateo, like the great base-running specialists who have come before him, can become an October folk tale. Think of the likes of Terrance Gore, dubbed the fastest man in baseball. He has three World Series rings with the Royals, Braves and Dodgers, despite having only one major league RBI.
Gore’s services applied only on the base paths as a pinch runner. He spent most of his career in the minors, getting the call just as a team was heating up.
Mateo, though not as extreme, could fill a similar role.
“It’s extremely valuable,” Hyde said. “Every team that is looking to make postseason pushes is looking for speed. It’s a big-time threat in a close game.”
But first, Mateo has to find a way to stay on the active roster. He hit .347 with 11 extra base hits, including five home runs, in the first month of the season, starting 22 games. Since then, he’s hit only .161 with seven extra base hits, no home runs, with his playing time trailing off as his numbers dipped.
Gunnar Henderson has proven to be a plus-defender at shortstop, and his skills at the plate speak for themselves. The Orioles, wanting to give Mateo as many opportunities as possible, are now trying his hand at center field, a position he hasn’t played since 2021.
“I think the most important thing is to just be on the field, regardless of where that is,” Mateo said through Brandon Quinones, who translated the interview. “I think as long as you are on the field, that’s what counts.”
He spent only three days freshening up on the position before the Orioles started him on Sunday against the Mets. With Aaron Hicks and Cedric Mullins on the injured list, and Colton Cowser experiencing a rookie slump, the Orioles have an opening for someone to swoop in, at least temporarily.
On Sunday, Mateo’s defense held up just fine. It was, as expected, his speed that was the real factor. In the fifth inning, Met’s center fielder Rafael Ortega missed what should have been a routine out. Mateo was able to stretch the play to a triple, then scored easily to give the Orioles the lead.
“I feel good about being able to play other positions,” he said. “The important thing is I’m able to go out and play on the field and give 100%”