Cleveland Indians 2017 top prospects: No. 12, Mark Mathias

Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

Jumping seven spots from 2016, infielder Mark Mathias comes in at number 12 on our Cleveland Indians 2017 top prospect countdown.

Who is Mark Mathias?

Mark Mathias has been one of the most pleasant surprises the last two years among Cleveland Indians prospects. Ranked 19th a year ago, he jumps seven spots in 2017 up to 12th after being taken in the third round of the 2015 draft out of California Polytechnic State University.

After spending 2015 at Short-Season Mahoning Valley, the right-handed hitting infielder skipped Class-A and went straight to Advanced-A Lynchburg to start the 2016 season before a late call-up to Double-A Akron to finish the season.

Strengths and Weaknesses

When he joined the Indians in 2015, the Indians expected to get a guy that knew how to hit. Mathias had won the Big West Conference batting title in his sophomore season at Cal Poly with a .386 average. His numbers slipped a bit his final junior, and final, year in school due to a right shoulder injury that eventually required labrum surgery (though he still hit a robust .356). The injury clearly didn’t have any lasting effects though as he’s hit .274 in his two professional seasons.

He has also impressed with a stout 10.5 percent walk rate over the last two years, while striking out just over 16 percent of the time. He has yet to hit for much power, hitting just five home runs in 2016; however, the 22-year-old did hit 40 doubles and a triple this past season, giving him 46 extra base hits in just 120 games. He likely will never be a 20-plus home run guy but he has the bat to hit near .300 with enough extra-base hits to be a big-time offensive asset.

Related: How many games will the Indians win in 2017?

Defensively, he joined the Indians looking like a second base-only type but has impressed in his versatility, playing third base and even shortstop in 2016. Second base remains his best position and the one he’s most likely to play at the big league level. He doesn’t have the greatest arm, which makes third base a bit of a stretch, but he has enough range to play the position if needed.

He won’t ever be a big league starter at shortstop either but could spot start in a pinch and looked better than expected at the position in 2016. He has decent speed as well and has shown good instincts on the bases, stealing nine bases last season while only being caught once.

Where does he go from here?

While he may not have had the highest expectations coming out of a smaller school, Mathias continues to be one of the most impressive prospects in the Tribe system. He skipped a level and didn’t show any ill-effects in 2016. He will return to Double-A Akron to start 2017, where he finished the season.

He was slated to open as the RubberDucks’ starting second baseman; however, he suffered a slight labrum tear in his left shoulder during a big league spring training game with the Tribe. The injury will almost certainly force him to start the season on the disabled list there.

The injury aside, Mathias enters 2017 as one of the most intriguing non-top ten prospects in the Tribe system. The glass half full take has him as a potential Dustin Pedroia with the bat. He has the potential to hit .300 with double-digit home runs and 40-plus extra base hits. A more realistic expectation would be a Ronnie Belliard type, giving his lack of elite defense.

The Indians don’t lack for depth on the infield but Mathias is arguably the best middle infielder in the system now (though I have Yu-Cheng Chang ahead of him) and could be in Columbus before the season is over. Given his newfound defensive versatility, he would appear to have the floor of a utility infielder with the ceiling of an All-Star second baseman.

Next: Indians 2017 Top 30 Prospects: No. 13, Tyler Krieger

Depending on how aggressive the Tribe wants to be with him and how long the injury keeps him out, Mathias could see Cleveland as soon as September 2017, though 2018 would be more likely given the depth at the major league level.