Examining the paths for Astros prospect J.J. Matijevic
Once a top name in the Houston Astros‘ farm system, J.J. Matijevic remains blocked from the major-league roster. The 26-year-old is Rule 5 Draft eligible, and after making his first stop in Triple-A in 2021, the first baseman would see a better shot at a promotion somewhere else.
Matijevic ranked the Astros’ 22nd-best prospect in 2019 by MLB Pipeline. While off to a hot start that year, the then 23-year-old was hit with his second suspension for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
Now three years older, he is off top rankings, as MLB Pipeline noted that Matijevic will have to lean on power for success with a lack of tools beyond the plate.
With only four stolen bases to his name last year, Matijevic already has three in roughly 8% of the sample size compared to last season. Strikeouts are down for the lefty to start the year, too, as he is seeing more pitches for a higher walk rate (17.2%).
Through 29 plate appearances this season, the lefty has slashed .348/.483/.783 with three home runs, seven RBI and 50% of his hits being for extra bases. The power is flashing early on, but would a consistent bat boost his chances of being added to the Astros’ 40-man roster?
With Taylor Jones and Joe Perez on the 40-man roster, there is not much room for J.J. Matijevic to reach the show with the Astros.
Jones is on his final year of minor-league options, while his stays at the major-league level haven’t been long. A positive COVID-19 result bumped him from the roster late last season, while he now battles with lower-back discomfort.
With Yuli Gurriel getting better with age, there doesn’t look to be a rush to find a replacement within the system, as Aledmys Diaz and Niko Goodrum offer viable backups to the position. Once Perez climbs to Triple-A, his chances of remaining on the active roster with a callup are more likely.
But for now, the position isn’t in need of much change, leaving Matijevic even more reason to be with an organization that will provide him an opportunity to fight for a depth spot. There might not be much trade value in Matijevic for his age, recent track record and limited positions, but with a hot start to the 2022 season, the primary first baseman could be building a case to be traded.
The Astros dealt outfielder and first baseman Norel Gonzalez prior to the 2022 season for a better chance in Miami’s system, and while the same could be done with Matijevic, it is only a matter of time until a team sees the power and versatility to the corner outfielders he has to offer.
Matijevic could offer a team like the Boston Red Sox a power bat off the bench, as well as versatility to backup a weaker position like first base and play left field. There are also rebuilding teams that could see Matijevic as a viable option, and with two full seasons until free agency, he may not see the majors with Houston.
His hot streak at the plate will cool off eventually, but as Matijevic is blocked from the majors with the Astros, the organization has extra depth to lean on, if for some reason a string of injuries hit the depth spots on the major-league bench.