Bulked-up Matos in camp with 'new look, more swag'

February 24th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It didn’t take long for Marco Luciano to realize there was something different about this spring.

“He looks stronger,” Luciano said in Spanish. “He has a new look, more swag.”

Matos reported to Scottsdale Stadium sporting new dreads this year, but the more substantive change could be seen in his bulked-up physique. The 22-year-old Venezuelan estimated that he added about nine pounds of muscle over the offseason, which he hopes will help him solidify a spot in the Giants’ outfield mix this year.

“I feel excellent,” Matos said in Spanish. “I worked a lot in the offseason and focused on improving my physique. That was my No. 1 goal. Fortunately, I was able to gain some pounds and see the results.”

Matos has long been known for his impressive bat-to-ball skills and broke into the Majors after slashing .331/.401/.543 with 12 home runs over 63 games between Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Sacramento in 2023. He didn’t enjoy quite as much success once he reached the big leagues, though, batting .250/.319/.342 with two homers in 76 games as a rookie.

Despite his knack for contact, Matos recorded the lowest hard-hit rate (31%) and the fourth-lowest average exit velocity (87.1 mph) among Giants hitters who produced a minimum of 150 batted ball events in 2023. To address his lack of oomph, the Giants asked Matos to work on building his strength over the offseason, a challenge he took to heart once he returned home to Venezuela.

Matos had initially hoped to suit up for Tiburones de La Guaira of the Venezuelan Winter League so his family -- who have been unable to secure a visa to come to the United States -- could finally see him play professionally, but he decided to stick to the gym, where he worked with his longtime trainer, Henry Briceño, to fill out his 5-foot-11 frame.

“I knew that if I was playing, I wouldn’t be able to prepare myself like I wanted to,” Matos said. “So I preferred to focus on improving that aspect.”

Could those changes help Matos hit for more power moving forward?

“We could end up seeing better results there,” Matos said. “But my mindset is just to make good contact and let things work out from there.”

The Giants have certainly been thrilled with the growth they’ve seen from Matos thus far.

“I’m really excited about the work that Luis did this offseason,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. “We’ve talked a lot about how last spring when we talked with him, we talked about controlling the zone, and he had that ability and went out and did it. This offseason, we kind of challenged him on the physicality aspect, and he’s done it. It was just really impressive how he’s taken these challenges and run with it.”

The Giants are projected to have a starting outfield of Jung Hoo Lee, Michael Conforto and Mike Yastrzemski this year, though Matos should still have a chance to contribute to the mix, especially if he continues to improve his reads and routes in center field. With Lee dealing with some side soreness, Matos will have a chance to start in center in the Giants’ Cactus League opener on Saturday and begin to make a push for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

“This is a high-profile guy in this organization,” manager Bob Melvin said. “I would think, even though he’s young, he’s thinking, ‘This is my time now.’ There’s a seriousness to him this year.”

Ramos impressing

Matos isn’t the only young outfielder who has stood out early in camp. Melvin also spoke highly of , who crushed a home run off Jordan Hicks in live batting practice earlier this week. Ramos, 24, played winter ball for Cangrejeros de Santurce in Puerto Rico during the offseason, so he’s a step ahead of most hitters and should get plenty of reps in the corner outfield spots given Yastrzemski's (left shoulder impingement) and Austin Slater’s (right elbow surgery) slower ramp-ups this spring.

“He’s been the star as far as hitting live pitching,” Melvin said of Ramos. “He went back to the Caribbean Series and played a few games there, too. But it’s been impressive to see. I haven’t been around him, and I obviously looked a lot at the body of work and where he is in his career here. But if someone’s come in trying to make an impact, he’s off to a really good start.”

Up next

The Giants have new slugger Jorge Soler penciled in to make his Cactus League debut on Monday, but they’ll have plenty of familiar faces stationed behind ace right-hander Logan Webb on Saturday. Here’s the club’s projected lineup against the Cubs:

  1. Austin Slater, DH
  2. Wilmer Flores, 1B
  3. Michael Conforto, LF
  4. J.D. Davis, 3B
  5. Thairo Estrada, 2B
  6. Patrick Bailey, C
  7. Heliot Ramos, RF
  8. Casey Schmitt, SS
  9. Luis Matos, CF

A few top pitching prospects are also listed as options to follow Webb, including Hayden Birdsong (MLB Pipeline's No. 10 Giants prospect), Carson Seymour (No. 23) and Erik Miller (No. 29).