Finally, there might be no stopping the big righty from completing his development and getting to the Major Leagues at some point in 2023.
The big hold-up was Tommy John surgery, which erased Mata’s ’21 season and turned last year into one in which he regained his feel for pitching.
Look for the 23-year-old Mata -- Boston’s No. 6 prospect -- to begin the season at Triple-A Worcester, and everyone knows what the next step up is after that.
“A guy with his size, the work he has put in, the stuff, it’s hard to beat that type of excitement for a starter,” said Red Sox director of player development Brian Abraham. “Excited to see what he can do. Excited to see the work he’s put in this offseason coming to Spring Training healthy and ready to impact the upper levels.”
You know who is one of the biggest Bryan Mata fans around? A guy by the name of Chris Sale.
At Red Sox Winter Weekend a few days ago, Sale was asked which of the team’s prospects excited him the most.
“I'm biased, because I'm a pitcher, but I love watching Mata throw,” Sale said. “I was there with him [in Fort Myers, Fla.] during his rehab process during Tommy John. We rehabbed together, and I saw him really turn a corner. The power he possesses, the ease that it looks like he's throwing with. Not for nothing, man, that dude's smile can light up a room. He's a fun guy to be around. He's a good teammate. You can tell, just how he operates, he really wants it.”
Mata, in Boston this week for the Rookie Development Program the Red Sox are holding, lit up when Sale’s praise was relayed back to him.
“I'm really grateful for it to have spent that time with him,” said Mata. “You know, he attended some of my bullpens. I attended some of his. He had a lot of great advice, and to have a pitcher of his stature be there advising you is a big deal for me, and I don’t take it lightly.”
What was the best advice Mata received from Sale?
“The biggest thing he mentioned was to put in an honest day's work and to let the results speak for themselves,” Mata said.
Mata’s results last year were impressive, considering he didn’t pitch in ’21.
Once he completed his rehab assignment, Mata officially started his Minor League season at Double-A Portland, posting a 1.85 ERA in 10 appearances and striking out 58 over 48 2/3 innings.
Then he got the promotion to Worcester, where he finished with a solid five-start run (2-0, 3.47 ERA, .224 opponents batting average).
Spring Training will be his next big proving ground. Mata’s arsenal is led by his heater, which sits in the mid to upper 90s and is complemented by a slider, curve and changeup.
What will the Red Sox be looking for in their evaluations?
“I would say commanding the zone is really important,” said Abraham. “Being able to challenge in the zone. You can’t get away with painting the corners in the big leagues. You have to challenge these guys because they have such good eyes at the plate, good approaches. Being able to challenge the strike zone, knowing he can get guys out with his stuff consistently in the zone is really important.”
Having the game taken away from him for a bit gave Mata some added perspective.
“Yeah, the last two years were tough, but at the same time, not being able to play, you kind of take an inventory of what you do well, what you don't do well," Mata said. "And that's kind of what I used that time to do."
Mata hopes that his time in the Major Leagues is at last close to happening.