Matos records first Major League hit in Giants' comeback win

June 14th, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- With the help of Google Translate, manager Gabe Kapler sent a text to outfield prospect on Tuesday night to congratulate him on his impending Major League debut with the Giants. Matos’ response required no translation.

“Just fire,” Kapler said. “Enthusiastic fire emojis.”

Matos, fittingly, stayed hot at the plate in his first Major League game, lining the second pitch he saw from Cardinals left-hander Jordan Montgomery to left field for his first career hit in the first inning of the Giants’ 8-5 comeback win on Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium.

The 21-year-old rookie clapped his hands and sported a huge grin upon reaching first, soaking in the moment he’d been working toward for his entire life.

“I’m really excited,” Matos said before the game. “It’s a dream come true. Every baseball player dreams of this. I’m excited to be here and have this opportunity.”

Matos, the Giants' No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, who batted second and started in center field, lined out in his next two at-bats before being lifted for pinch-hitter Michael Conforto in the top of the seventh. The Giants trailed, 5-3, in the top of the ninth before Mike Yastrzemski cranked a two-out, two-strike home run off Cardinals closer Giovanny Gallegos to tie the game and force extra innings.

Yastrzemski opened the 10th at second base as the automatic runner and scored the go-ahead run on Thairo Estrada’s RBI single to center field, helping the Giants (36-32) complete a three-game sweep of the Cardinals and move a season-high four games over .500.

Matos said he planned to give his first-hit ball to his parents, who weren’t in the stands on Wednesday but were closely following the action from his hometown of Bobures, Venezuela. Matos did have about 10 other family members in attendance, with his uncle and cousins making the 12-hour drive from Denver to be there for his debut.   

“I’m very happy that they were able to be here for my first game,” Matos said in Spanish. “They traveled like 12 hours to be here. I’m thankful that I was able to share this moment with them.”

Matos had been in the midst of a torrid streak at Triple-A Sacramento, where he batted .398 with a 1.120 OPS and seven home runs over 24 games before earning his long-awaited promotion on Wednesday. He was called up to replace left fielder Mitch Haniger, who will undergo surgery to repair a fractured right forearm on Thursday in Los Angeles. 

With Haniger’s season potentially in jeopardy, Matos should get plenty of runway to try to solidify a starting spot in the Giants’ outfield this summer. He is known for his elite bat-to-ball skills, as well as his premier defense in the outfield, which earned him Defensive Player of the Year honors in the Arizona Fall League last year.

“I’m really excited for him,” Kapler said. “He comes into Spring Training, we asked him to be a little bit more selective on the pitches he looks to drive, and he applies that right away. Obviously, coming off the defensive accolades from the Arizona Fall League, really good reports on him in center field so far this year. He’s got a chance to be a good all-around player at the Major League level.”

Matos (21 years, 137 days) is the fourth-youngest active player on a Major League roster, behind the Marlins’ Eury Pérez, the Braves’ A.J. Smith-Shawver and the Cardinals’ Jordan Walker. He is the youngest player to debut with the Giants since a 20-year-old Madison Bumgarner broke into the Majors in 2009.

“It’s unbelievable,” said third baseman David Villar, who was also recalled from Triple-A Sacramento on Wednesday. “He’s barely legal. … It’s always shocking when you can see a young kid like that with immense talent being able to do what he can do on a day to day basis.”

Matos is the eighth Giant to debut this year, showcasing the impressive gains the organization’s farm system has made in 2023. Matos, infielder Casey Schmitt and catcher Patrick Bailey each began last season at High-A Eugene, but they’re now playing together in the Majors and showing that they have the potential to develop into cornerstone players for the Giants.

“It’s a really good reminder that we’re going to stick with our guys and give them more opportunities even when they do struggle because it’s worth it,” Kapler said. “Players who develop at the Major League level and get better, help teams win. I don’t think there’s anything that’s going to be more impactful for us to be winning and potentially going to the postseason than some of our young players doing the work that they’re doing right now.”