SUGAR LAND, Texas – Whatever intel the El Paso Chihuahuas had on J.J. Matijevic didn’t matter on a 3-1 pitch in his first Triple-A game.
Matijevic parked a home run into the right-field power alley in his first at-bat after moving up a level. The 25-year old has battled ups and downs in the minor leagues and has now put himself in the conversation to potentially make an impact on the 2022 Astros.
Matijevic has 10 home runs in Sugar Land and added nine in Corpus Christi for 19 total this season.
His .821 OPS in Triple-A shows that he has adapted to the level. Matijevic suffered through a cold July (.157 batting average) and was struggling against the same El Paso team he had terrorized in June.
During the next series, in early August against the Round Rock Express, Matijevic started paying more attention to how pitchers were pitching to him. He focused on the pitch sequences he was getting, and saw that he would notice more breaking pitches early in the count.
Starting with that series, Matijevic had hits in eight straight games, including three home runs. Overall in August, he has a .946 OPS entering Thursday night’s game.
Matijevic is not on the Astros 40-man roster, but the 2017 75th overall pick has a path to the big leagues at his position. He played shortstop in high school, second base and first base in college, then picked up left field in the minor leagues. Admitting he was “horrible out there” at first, but has since improved.
Matijevic may not be known for his glove, but he has yet to make an error in the outfield this season. He’s played a steady and solid first base for the Skeeters, with also no errors after four in Double-A Corpus Christi.
The Astros have been relatively quiet about where they eventually want Matijevic to end up, he said. But the assumption is at first base.
Houston’s first base depth for 2022 is largely dependent on whether the team wants to pick up Yuli Gurriel’s player option. Abraham Toro, who played both third and first base has been traded to Seattle, and really the only true first baseman above Matijevic (other than Gurriel) on the organizational depth chart is current Astros bench player Taylor Jones.
Jones has more experience in Triple-A and has outhit Matijevic at the level (Jones is slashing .325/.403/.542 in Triple-A to Matijevic’s .241/.309/.512), but Jones hasn’t made a splash at the big league level (slashing .210/.244/.321).
Matijevic is also refocused on baseball, after a 50-game suspension in 2019 after a second positive test for drug abuse.
“I just learned how much I missed (baseball) and learned how to become a better man and not to take anything for granted,” said Matijevic.
With the suspension behind him, Matijevic has been able to show the same kind of swagger in minor league ball that made him a fan favorite at Arizona.
As a Wildcat, Matijevic led Arizona to a 2016 College World Series appearance and led the Pac-12 in batting average in 2017.
“I try to be myself and always play with a little bit of swagger, it’s just how I’ve always done it and I never want to change that,” Matijevic said.