In January of 2017, the Astros were compensated two draft picks from the Cardinals for the hacking incident. While the punishment seemed light, the Astros have made good use of the picks so far. With the second pick they got from St. Louis, they drafted outfielder J.J. Matijevic.
Matijevic was selected #75 overall in 2017 out of the University of Arizona. He had a fantastic junior season for the Wildcats hitting .383 with 30 2B, 10 HR, 65 RBI in 59 games. Following the draft, he was assigned to Tri-City where he had a .702 OPS in 53 games.
Matijevic started the 2018 season with the Quad Cities River Bandits but made quick work of the Midwest League hitting .354 with 10 XBHs in 13 games. He was promoted to High-A Buies Creek where he posted a .849 OPS with 20 2B, 19 HR, 57 RBI in 88 games. Overall he had a .887 OPS in 101 games and a 147 wRC+.
What was more impressive though was the way he finished the season. Over the final 34 games, Matijevic had a .992 OPS, 11 HR, 32 RBI and a 175 wRC+. He also posted a .326 ISO and a fantastic 13.3 BB%. To throw out a silly comparison, Springer had a 158 wRC+ and 11.8 BB% his last 34 games in High-A in his first full season.
I asked J.J. about his strong finish to the season and he said, “As far as last year goes and my strong finish, I just tried learning and learning every single day and staying really strong mentally... I went through a stretch in High A when I was really struggling but our hitting coach Ben Rosenthal did a great job of working with me and staying positive.”
Matijevic also talked about taking pride in the mental part of the game, “ I took pride in my mental game last year towards the end, having a ton of fun just loving the game and it really showed on the field in order for me to finish so strong.” The fun on the field definitely translated to success for him and set him up for an important off-season.
J.J. had the following to say about the work put in this winter, “this off-season I mainly worked on hip mobility and just a lot of work to better prepare my body for this season in order to stay healthy.” He also noted that he wasn’t a big mechanical guy stating “the only thing I really worry about is my load, into my hips and the rest takes care of itself.”
If you wondering what Matijevic’s strong suit is on the field, and weren’t able to figure out by the stats above, he added “My strong suit is my power and my bat speed and the knowledge and idea of what pitches they may be throwing in certain counts... That all comes with reps and experience.”
So from being drafted out of high school in the 17th round, attending the University of Arizona and seeing his stock rise to that of a 2nd round pick, Matijevic is on a trend to keep getting better. He just turned 23 and will be that age for the full 2019 season. This year could be a big one for the left fielder as he continues to rise through the Astros system.