Since the demise of the old “draft-and-follow” system in 2007, the Padres have had exactly one position player they drafted after the 30th round reach the big leagues with the organization: Ty France.
According to reports by Jeff Sanders, that number will double Thursday when Matthew Batten joins the Padres in Los Angeles. The 27-year-old’s rise from a 32nd-round pick to a versatile option in the Major Leagues is among the more improbable in the 20 seasons MadFriars has covered the system.
Batten, 27, was a four-year player at Quinnipiac University, just down the road from his home town in Connecticut. Listed, perhaps generously, at 170 pounds, he led the Bobcats with a .305 average his senior year while playing everyday at shortstop.
After signing, Batten reported to the Arizona League with most late-round picks. Already 22 at the time, he produced just above league average with a .263/.336/.394 line supported by a double-digit walk rate, and earned a promotion to the then short-season Northwest League. Wearing down and physically overmatched, Batten posted a .576 OPS to complete his first professional season.
Batten opened 2018 in extended spring training, but got out of the desert in early May as a one-week roster stopgap for Triple-A El Paso. Having failed to make a roster a month earlier, Batten was then assigned to Lake Elsinore, the High-A affiliate at the time, and managed to appear at six different positions in 13 games.
When Missions infielder River Stevens was injured in a collision, Batten was sent out to his third level of the year. Despite announcing his arrival with a grand slam for his first Double-A hit, Batten managed just a .077 isolated power rate as he provided versatility and then stepped in at shortstop when a prospect with a slightly higher profile went down with a season-ending injury.
By the time he reported to Peoria again at the start of the 2019 campaign, Batten had added both strength and explosiveness. As we talked to decision-makers in spring training, his name came up repeatedly as a possible pop-up performer. Batten broke with the Double-A Amarillo, but after just two games, he was called up to Triple-A when Luis Urías was summoned to the big league club.
Still a bit overmatched physically by that level of competition, Batten nonetheless played 109 games for El Paso, logging time primarily on the left side of the infield, but also starting at first and left. He even logged seven mop-up relief appearances, posting a 2.57 ERA. At the plate, his walk rate dropped into the single digits for the only time in his career as he posted an 89 wRC+ mark.
With another strong showing in offseason strength and conditioning work, Batten was invited to the club’s minor league minicamp in February, 2020, but when the pandemic struck, he was never added to the alternate site.
When minor league baseball returned in 2021, Batten had been leapfrogged by Tucupita Marcano, so he opened the year back in Double-A, but once again quickly shuttled back to El Paso to backstop roster needs. Having made more improvements in his speed, Batten provided nearly league average offense while swiping 27 bases – more than he’d totaled in his first three professional seasons combined – and adding center field to his defensive repertoire. Late in the season, we talked with him in El Paso about the winding journey to that point.
The performance was enough to make his first appearance on our post-season wrap-ups and, more important to his career, land a spot in the Arizona Fall League.
After a second straight atypical offseason, Batten was invited to big league camp with the Padres this spring. While he went hitless in 13 at-bats and was never given serious consideration for a roster spot even after Fernando Tatís Jr.’s wrist injury was announced, he showed a mechanical change that portended good things.
By moving up on the plate, Batten was able to unlock power he hadn’t previously shown in his career. By mid-May he’d matched his previous season high in homers and he was the top performer in El Paso for the month.
While Batten is capable at shortstop, he fits better at second or third, and has developed the skillset to play capably at all three outfield spots. While he has a career-best .504 slugging percentage this year, he profiles best hitting gap-to-gap and controlling the strike zone.
While he doesn’t have the sexiest tools, he has demonstrated at every step that he can get the best production out of his abilities. Bet against him doing the same at the game’s highest level at your own peril.