A top Red Sox pitching prospect arrived at a milestone Thursday morning.
Righthander Bryan Mata, who underwent Tommy John surgery last April, threw two innings in an extended spring training game — his first competition against batters from another organization since his operation. He didn’t allow a hit, struck out five, walked two, and his fastball topped out at 100 miles per hour.
Mata, 23, showed potentially overpowering stuff in 2019 (7-7, 3.43 ERA, 111 strikeouts and 42 walks in 105 innings in High A and Double A) and again at the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket during the 2020 season.
Pre-injury, Mata topped out regularly in the upper 90s while showing a swing-and-miss slider as well as the potential to mix in both a curveball and changeup, displaying what most considered the best pure stuff in the system.
His relatively high walk rate (9.3 percent) has raised questions about whether he can stick as a starter or will eventually move to the bullpen, but in either role, he is considered to have a high ceiling.
Mata seems likely to start a rehab assignment when the Florida Complex League season begins in early June. The Sox plan to keep him on a starter’s schedule, with hopes of getting him to Triple A Worcester this summer. Mata could be paired there with Brayan Bello, who struck out 10 in his Triple A debut Wednesday.
While the Sox are likely to proceed deliberately with Mata’s rehab, it’s not out of the question that he could emerge as a big league consideration by the end of this year if his rehab continues on its current steady track.