Luis Matos Becomes the Solution for the San Francisco Giants

After Jung Hoo Lee got injured, things looked bleak for the Giants. That is, until Luis Matos stepped in and set the world on fire.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Luis Matos #29 of the San Francisco Giants bats against the Colorado Rockies in the bottom of the seventh inning at Oracle Park on May 19, 2024 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Raise your hand if you picked Luis Matos to be the best player in the National League last week.

You’re lying.

Promoted on May 12 and relegated to pinch-running duties on Mother’s Day, Matos went on a hitting spree so remarkable on Monday, May 13 that he locked up NL Player of the Week nearly two days before the weekend was over.

In his first starts at Oracle Park since last September, Matos batted .385 (10-for-26) with three runs, three doubles, two home runs, 16 RBI and a .731 slugging percentage across six games from May 13-19.

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Over the course of five days, he surpassed the 14 RBI it took him 76 games to accumulate last season. Those 16 RBI in a single calendar week? It immediately shoots him up the rankings fourth-most on the San Francisco Giants in 2024.

Not bad for a player who was playing in front of less than four thousand fans in Utah before his promotion. 

He became just the fourth player in Giants history with at least five RBI in back-to-back games. At 22 years and 111 days old, Matos also became the youngest player in MLB history (RBI became an official stat in 1920) to ever accomplish the feat.

Once more, Matos tied the franchise record with 11 RBI over a three-game series against Colorado, joining Jack Clark (1992) and Jeff Kent (1998).

Just In Time

San Francisco is in the midst of the worst injury spree in the Majors. Nine players went out in a span of 13 days from May 4-17 to give the club 13 players on the injured list at one time.

Chief among those is the player with the highest overall contract remaining, Jung Hoo Lee. Signed out of the KBO following seven seasons as one of the best players Korea had ever produced, the Giants agreed to pay the career .340 hitter a whopping $113 million for the next six years.

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The signing was viewed as a positive move for a franchise in need of a recognizable names after being relegated to bridesmaid the last several offseasons. Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani all treated the Giants as a pawn on their way to more preferred destinations.

Left in the wake of the Lee deal was the team’s top center field prospect in Matos. San Francisco traded Mitch Haniger to free up some playing time for the likes of Matos and Heliot Ramos, but the largest free agent contract ever given to a position player by the Giants signaled more seasoning in the minors for the Venezuelan-born talent.

Then three outfielders were injured in consecutive days. For Lee, who damaged his shoulder during a crash into the Oracle Park wall, season-ending surgery to repair the torn labrum was deemed the best possible option.

Insert Matos. The rest, history.

The injection of life that Matos provided the lineup was even more valuable than his NL Player of the Week Award, the club’s first since 2018 when Brandon Belt was given the honors. (Matos was also the first outfielder to win for San Francisco since Hunter Pence in 2016.)

The Orange and Black scored 28 runs over the weekend during the three-game set for the first time at home since putting up 31 runs against the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014. Matos played a role in 12 of those runs.

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San Francisco ended up sweeping the visiting Rockies, who entered on a seven-game win streak, and pulled to within two games of .500 for the first time since May 2.

Prospect Polish

Signed by Giants scout Edgar Fernández as an international free agent out of Venezuela for $725,000 in 2018, Matos was regarded for his baseball IQ even at the age of 16. Both his father and uncle played professionally and a pair of his cousins have reached the Majors in recent years: Luis Alexander Basabe (San Francisco, 2020) and Osleivis Basabe (Tampa Bay, 2023).

Matos made such a strong impression in the Dominican Summer League in 2019 at the age of 17 that he was brought stateside to the Arizona Complex League by the end of the season. The pandemic wiped away all minor league games in 2020, but Matos managed to receive an invite to the Giants alternate site that year. 

In 2021, he made a name for himself as the Low-A West MVP. He led the California League in hits (141), extra-base hits (51), doubles (35), total bases (223) and RBI (86). At that point, he was widely regarded as a top 100 prospect despite having just turned 20 years old. 

Yet, pundits from around the game cooled on Matos by the end of 2022 as the 5’11” outfielder dealt with a left quad issue that limited him to 94 games. He batted .215 with a .629 OPS, mostly at High-A Eugene and had to settle for the Defensive Player of the Year in the Arizona Fall League as his lone honor for the season.

He slashed .309/.399/.444 in Double-A in 2023 before advancing to Triple-A to produce even stronger offensive numbers against opposing pitchers who were six years older, on average.

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During his first taste of the Majors last season, Matos started with a similar flair as 2024. He scored 10 runs during his first seven career games, most ever in that span by a Giant, including their days in Manhattan. Speaking of California teams that originated in New York, Matos’ outpouring of runs was the most for a debuting player since Brooklyn’s Jim Gilliam in 1953 to score 10 or more runs in their first seven career games without hitting a home run.

2024 Outlook

Matos should have a clear runway to playing time in center field with Lee out until 2025, especially when considering his above average defense. His home run robbery against the Los Angeles Dodgers was critical during the Giants 4-1 win on May 15.

For Matos to not only have tracked down the 405 ft blast from Teoscar Hernández and keep momentum on the Giants side, but to have survived the collision with the wall is a strange coincidence given Lee’s less fortunate encounter only a few days prior.

Matos has moved to the top of San Francisco’s lineup following his offensive explosion. Could manager Bob Melvin cool on Matos at some point? Not if he keeps contributing on both sides of the diamond.

San Francisco has shown a willingness to allow Mike Yastrzemski to patrol center field. Once Austin Slater returns comes off the injured list for a concussion, those two could eventually eat into Matos’ starts, though it shouldn’t mean a trip back to Sacramento after everything he’s provided.

The Giants are still in a win-now mode. The entire organization isn’t exactly at the luxury of starting a player for development purposes.

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The breakout from Matos should do wonders for giving everyone at 24 Willie Mays Plaza the confidence that his ceiling could be the best of their young talent and precisely what they need to salvage this season.