Astros Player of the Day: J. J. Matijevic

Houston Astros’ JJ Matijevic takes a photo with Christian Saenz, 15, during a caravan event at Whataburger By the Bay on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Astros Player of the Day: J. J. Matijevic

Welcome to Gallery Sports’ Houston Astros Spring Training player spotlight: Astros Player of the Day. We will look at a different Astros player each day throughout the spring.

Today’s Astros Player of the Day is first baseman J. J. Matijevic.

Selected with the 75th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft by the Astros, Matijevic has proven his power at every level of the minor leagues thus far. In 2018, he posted a 1.155 OPS at Single-A Quad Cities. In 2019, he put up a 1.122 OPS at High-A Fayetteville. With his 2020 MiLB season wiped out by the pandemic, he started 2021 at Double-A Corpus Christi, where he powered his way to a .912 OPS, earning a call-up to Triple-A Sugar Land, where he hit well with 16 home runs and an .828 OPS in 282 at-bats.

Matijevic began 2022 at Sugar Land, and his red-hot start for the Space Cowboys in 2022 (.310/.420/.714 with four home runs and 10 RBIs in 11 games) earned him a call-up to Houston on April 20. Unfortunately, he didn’t get an opportunity to prove himself, and he was relegated to pinch-hit duty before being optioned back to Sugar Land on May 2, having gone 0-for-5.

This would begin Matijevic’s season on the “Sugar Land Express,” as he would be frequently called up but not given much chance to play. He was recalled to Houston again June 15 and hit his first career MLB HR on June 19 against Michael Kopech of the White Sox. Six days later, Matijevic took Yankees ace Gerrit Cole yard for his second home run. He only got another 39 total at-bats before being optioned back to Sugar Land Aug. 2.

He was recalled again Aug. 17, but optioned back Aug. 20. He was back with the Astros on Aug. 30, and optioned again to Triple-A on Sep. 13.

J.J. Matijevic’s numbers at the MLB level weren’t very good, but that made sense given the incredibly infrequent opportunities he got. He was forced to shuffle back and forth between Sugar Land (where he played every day) and Houston (where he mostly sat on the bench). Matijevic hit .209 on the season, with a .254 OBP and a lowly .582 OPS.

Astros manager Dusty Baker was reticent to replace a struggling Yuli Gurriel in the lineup, often citing his 2021 season where he was a Gold Glove winner and the American League batting champion, regardless of Yuli’s 2022 struggles at the plate and regression in the field. This made it very hard for Matijevic to get playing time. When he didn’t deliver instantly, he was sat back down.

Matijevic’s positional limitations made it hard for him to get at-bats with the Astros. His two best positions are first base and designated hitter, maybe not necessarily in that order. He was blocked by Yuli at first base, by Yordan Alvarez at designated hitter, and by Trey Mancini as the backup in those spots.

Matijevic is expected to start the year at Triple-A Sugar Land this season and serve as insurance for the big league club in case of injury. However, the opportunity for his at-bats will again be limited with Jose Abreu at first base and Yordan Alvarez and Michael Brantley sharing designated hitter duties. He could get another opportunity this year with the Astros as a call-up if someone is injured (it is currently unknown if Michael Brantley will be ready for Opening Day, while Yordan Alvarez is dealing with hand soreness, but he is expected to be ready for Opening Day), but if he doesn’t hit immediately, he may not get much of a chance to show what he can do.

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