Each Spring Training, there is a player who plays well or opens many eyes. There’s always that one guy who has little to no expectations coming into spring and ends up competing for a roster spot. Last season J.B. Shuck basically had no expectations and ended up making the team. 2 years ago, Kole Calhoun was written off by some fans and ended up tearing up Spring Training. This year, Matt Long is making a very strong case to be the out of nowhere player to make the Opening Day roster.
Many fans probably had no idea Matt Long was coming into spring. Only the dedicated Angels fans who keep track on their minor leaguers had a clue who he was. A few weeks ago, I predicted that Long would have a good spring so I wasn’t unaware of Long’s skill set. Even then, this was a 26 year old who wasn’t considered a prospect by anybody. That’s understandable too. Many players that have productive careers have several seasons under their belt by age 27. Long just reached AAA last season.
At the end of Wednesday’s game vs the Brewers, Long has 15 hits in 28 at bats, good for a .536 average. These weren’t all bloop singles either as he has 5 doubles and 1 triple in those 28 at bats. Every ball he has hit has been hit with some authority and many hits have came against major league pitchers. Long added on to his spring by making a great catch late in the game on Wednesday.
Long definitely fits the prototypical “late bloomer” mold. He was drafted as a 22 year old out of Santa Clara in the 30th round of the 2009 draft. In 236 plate appearances in 2009, he posted a .806 OPS and walked more than he struck out. In 2010 at A Ball at Cedar Rapids, Long had a .305/.382/.446 line and stole 23 bases in 125 games. In 2011 at High A Inland Empire and AA Arkansas, Long had a .298/.378/.502 line while hitting 34 doubles, 12 triples, 18 home runs and stole 34 bases. In 2012 at at Arkansas and AAA Salt Lake, Long had an .812 OPS while hitting 12 HR and stealing 23 bases. This was a step back in his development but it was still a solid year for him, even if he was old for the league. In 2013, he started in Arkansas and mashed to a .859 OPS which forced a call up back to Salt Lake after 32 games. He proceeded to post a .287/.371/.466 line in Salt Lake.
He has produced at every level in the minors. Excluding his 17 plate appearances in High A Ball in 2009, here is his wRC+at each level in the minors.
It seems like Long may not be getting a fair shot at the big leagues after the results he’s had but he’s also been blocked by some pretty good players. Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos, Josh Hamilton, Torii Hunter and Kole Calhoun have all manned the outfield in the time when Long could have been called up. Even J.B. Shuck produced well enough last year where another outfielder wasn’t needed. Long also plays 2nd base but he’s been blocked by Howie Kendrick and may be blocked by Grant Green now.
With Long being a late blooming OF in the Angels Organization, it’s easy to make the comparisons to fellow teammate Kole Calhoun, who also is a classic late bloomer. Long has a career .293/.370/.469 line in the minor leagues. Calhoun had a .317/.402/.541 line in the minors. Calhoun was younger when he came up to the bigs and posted better numbers and was also a more highly touted prospect so maybe the comparison is unfair. It’s too easy to make the comparison however since both are older guys who are coming up to the majors later than usual.
This isn’t to say that Long is going to hit like Calhoun. This is simply making a point that players can come up late and have productive careers or stretches in their career. Players such as Daniel Nava, Jose Bautista, Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson and Matt Carpenter are all guys who were never given much credit as a prospect and ended up doing productive things in the major leagues.
Obviously, this isn’t a prediction that Matt Long will turn into a great player or MVP candidate. But it wouldn’t be the first time someone raked in the minors at an advanced age and ended up being a useful or productive major leaguer. Long has a good chance to be valuable because he can play all 3 outfield positions and 2nd base. Versatility is valued in the majors and it’s especially valued by Angels manager Mike Scioscia. Long’s skill set is also a valuable commodity in the majors. Players who get on base, run the bases well and hit for a decent average and power can make a difference.
Long may not make the team out of spring with limited bench spots on the big league roster but there’s no doubt that he will be up in the majors this season. Some injuries will happen and Long has the versatility to play in the outfield and at 2nd base. There’s a good shot that you’ll see Matt Long up in the big leagues in April or possibly May. Don’t be upset if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster. Matt Long will be up and make some impact this season.