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EXCLUSIVE: Jorge Mateo ready for a big 2017

Before the Yankees re-stocked their farm system with guys like Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres and Blake Rutherford to name a few, there was Jorge Mateo.

Signed as a 17-year-old back in 2012 out of the Dominican Republic, Mateo possessed the kind of game-changing, eye-popping talent the Yankees had lacked in years past. He was even labeled as the best shortstop prospect since someone named Derek Jeter.

In 2015, Mateo flashed his potential. Between low-A Charleston and high-A Tampa, he hit .268/.338/.378 and swiped 82 bases, leading every single level of professional baseball. Mateo finished the year in Tampa and hit an impressive .321/.374/.452 in 21 games, and seemed poised to go on a meteoric rise in 2016.

Mateo was invited to participate in the big league camp as a 20-year-old last spring and had the chance to play front-and-center for manager Joe Girardi. He went 3-for-15 (.200) with a homer, triple and three RBI’s in 10 Grapefruit League games. With a taste of his first big-league camp in the books, Mateo was ready to take the next step towards the Bronx.

Then the suspension came.

The specifics to why Mateo was slapped with a two-week suspension last July were never made public. But, because of the suspension, Mateo was unable to compete in the Futures Game during All-Star weekend.

Mateo wound up hitting .254/.306/.379 in 2016 with 108 strikeouts, marking arguably his worst season as a minor leaguer. With the addition of Frazier and Torres at the deadline, Mateo dropped down to third on the organization’s top prospect list, according to mlb.com.

Determined to regain his status as the most dynamic position player in the organization, Mateo looks to use 2016 as motivation going into a new season.

“[I’m} gonna keep on working hard, stay focused and come with a different mentality for 2017,” Mateo said. “Working out Monday through Saturday, come back stronger and ready to go.”

Up until 2016, Mateo had never played anywhere else but shortstop. With the emergence of Didi Gregorius at the big-league level, Tyler Wade at Trenton and the acquisition of Torres, there seemed to be a roadblock on Mateo’s road to the Bronx. The Yankees decided to give him reps at second base in the second half of ’16. In 40 games and 175 chances there, Mateo committed just one error.

In order to make him more versatile, the Yankees even gave Mateo a look in the outfield during the Instructional League a couple months ago. Although he doesn’t know where he’ll play in 2017, Mateo hopes to be ready for wherever he’s needed.

“The Yankees haven’t told me where I will be playing,” he said. “I don’t have a problem playing anywhere on the field, I just go out there with the same mentality to work hard. I’ll play everywhere the team wants me to play.”

Shortstops are usually the most athletic players on the field. It’s often said that it’s easier to move out from the infield than to come in from the outfield. At six-feet, 190 pounds, Mateo’s physical build is similar to a young Alfonso Soriano. Mateo believes his athleticism can make the transition from shortstop to the outfield an easy one.

“Adjusting to the outfield should play well to my abilities and would be a smooth transition,” Mateo said.

2016 could prove to be a major turning point in Mateo’s career. He’s experienced the high of being the crown jewel of the organization, to the low of being suspended. He’s in unchartered waters heading into 2017, unsure of where he’ll play or where he’ll ultimately end up. Regardless, the goal is the Bronx.

“[I’m going into 2017 with the] same motivation, come to work hard and work towards the future, no distractions,” Mateo said.

Seemingly playing with a chip on his shoulder and out to prove that he has a bright future, look for Mateo to regain that momentum he was building in 2015.

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