After arthroscopic shoulder surgery in December, All-America second baseman Mark Mathias is expected to miss at least the first month of the season for the Cal Poly baseball team, adding to a list of Mustangs who are on the mend coming into the year.
Mathias is the reigning Big West Conference Field Player of the Year after he led the conference by hitting .386 as a sophomore last season, and he was penciled in to hit in the No. 3 spot in the order.
Losing that level of talent will be a huge blow to Cal Poly, which is coming off a celebrated season where it hosted an NCAA Regional for the first time in program history and climbed to the top of one national poll among a deep list of accolades.
Mathias said the surgery took place Dec. 2 and repaired a minor Type II SLAP tear to the labrum in his throwing shoulder. His rehab schedule could clear him for hitting activities as early as the start of March and throwing in early April. Mathias is confident he will be ready in that timetable.
“I believe that athletes that go through injuries just make them mentally stronger,” Mathias said. “This is just a minor setback for a major comeback. I know I’m eager to get back on the field with my boys and start throwing again, but I have to be super cautious. I have a long career ahead of me and a lot of throwing ahead of me.”
Baseball America ranks Mathias at No. 34 on its preseason Top 100 Prospects list, and he came out of a summer stint with Team USA as the No. 13 prospect on that team.
Mathias also led the Big West in runs (48) and ranked second in hits (81) and on-base percentage (.455), eighth in doubles (14) and 10th in RBI (39).
Eligible for the MLB Draft for the first time this year after going undrafted out of Fremont Irvington High in 2012, Mathias’ future may depend on how he looks returning from surgery.
“Everyone’s saying, oh, pro prospects and stuff,” Mathias said, “but as of right now I’m just focusing on strengthening my arm and getting back, looking towards my first pitch against TCU or the following series. I’m just playing it day-by-day. Once you start getting a little bit too ahead of yourself, that’s when it starts crumbling in front of your eyes.”
Cal Poly opens the season with a three-game series at Baylor starting Feb. 13. The TCU series takes place in Forth Worth, Texas, from Feb. 27 to March 1.
In addition to Mathias, third baseman John Schuknecht had rotator cuff surgery this past offseason. Sophomore starting pitchers Justin Calomeni and Slater Lee, penciled in to follow Friday starter Casey Bloomquist in the weekend rotation, each had offseason knee surgery.
Mustangs head coach Larry Lee said as many as eight players missed fall practice to nurse injuries suffered during the high school or summer seasons, which limited player development.
Mathias, Lee said, would initially return as a designated hitter. Upon resuming throwing, he would likely shift to first base. Mathias played exclusively at second base for Cal Poly last season but played first, second and third for Team USA and shortstop in high school.
The Mustangs will be scrambling to compensate for Mathias’ loss early on. Junior Ryan Drobny (.217 BA in 2014) figures to fill in at second base. Sophomore catcher Brett Barbier (.280), penciled in as a first-year starter and slated to lead off, could shift to third in the lineup and move junior shortstop Peter Van Gansen (.286) to the top of the order.
Those decisions will begin to be sorted out when the team opens practice next Friday. Lee is confident Mathias will be able to make a splash when he is able to return despite the layoff. Mathias did play through the injury for Team USA and participated successfully in intraquad scrimmages in the fall before the tear was diagnosed in November.
“With his swing mechanics, he has a very short swing, a very simple approach,” Lee said. “It’s just going to be a matter of seeing some live pitching and then getting some live at-bats in a practice setting before he is ready to go.
“We just need to survive the early portion of our season, and when we get him in hopefully, that will boost us up to another level and we’ll continue to grow as a team.”