Red Sox top pitching prospect dazzles in Spring debut

(Photo: Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
Eric D. Schabell
Contributing Writer

The Red Sox have made it an obvious goal of trying to lower the team salary and stocking the farm system.

Taking a closer look at the existing prospects, there is a special case worth noting, one that's home grown. Not only are we talking about the clubs number four ranking overall prospect, but he's a pitching prospect.

As Ian Brown of notes, "The last homegrown starting pitcher the Red Sox had who won as many as 10 games in a season was lefty Felix Doubront, who did it in 2012 and ’13."

Who is it you ask?

Bryan Mata, a 20-year-old, 6'3", 160lb right-handed pitcher from Venezuela who's being groomed for a starting spot in the rotation. He spent last season split between high A Salem and double-A Portland, which is moving right along the path that includes a Spring Training invite.

He was over powering in high A Salem, starting 10 games with a 3-1 record, but more impressive was his 1.75 ERA in 51.1 IP, giving up 18 BB against 52 K. He has a mid to upper 90s fastball and a good slider. His secondary pitches are a curve and change-up, though when asked by Tom Keegan which is better?

"Change-up," Mata said.

Mata threw one inning of relief against the Rays on 22 February, issuing a walk and giving up just one hit and no runs. Last Thursday he had his first start of the Spring campaign, logging 2 IP, issuing one walk, striking out two, gave up two hits, and allowing no runs.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was excited to see him progress so fast but cautious in his optimism.

“It’s cool for him just to have worked and progressed to where he gets to do this,” Bloom said of Mata's start. “I don’t think you’re too focused on the results, although it was nice to see him do a lot of the things that he did. It’s just cool to see a kid like that who progressed through the system become a legitimate prospect and then get to have this experience.”

Mata was thrilled to play with the stacked lineup behind him which included Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., JD Martinez, Mitch Moreland, and catcher Christian Vazquez.

“I felt great. I had a lot of confidence going into it, just knowing that I was going to be making this start,” Mata said. “Mixing my pitches especially, just taking the lead from Vazquez, who’s a great catcher, and [is] someone I leaned on. It felt really great to be able to mix them up.”

What's interim manager Ron Rienicke think of Mata after this early look at him?

“He’s young, hopefully he keeps getting better command, and if he does, he’ll be a real nice pitcher,” Roenicke said.

Even though with Chris Sale heading on the injured list and opening up a spot on the starting rotation, it's expected that Mata will head back to double-A Portland. Should he improve his change-up as a third pitch he could see time in triple-A, but he's hoping for more.

“My goal would obviously be to play in the Major Leagues this year, but whatever the team thinks is best for me, that’s really what I’ll go with,” Mata said.

There is a chance with the Red Sox projecting to win so few games that it's realistic they won't be in the mix for postseason baseball. Should that be the case and Mata can reach triple-A it's not inconceivable that he'd could be a late season showcase at Fenway Park.

Post a comment or via twitter @erics_redsox with your thoughts.

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