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2016 pleasant surprises: Francisco Mejia

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Francisco Mejia wasn't an unknown prospect heading into 2016. After an up and down early career, it was unknown just how good of a prospect he could be. We now know.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

2016 was yet another big season for Major League Baseball’s youth rebellion. While Corey Seager, Dansby Swanson and David Dahl were some top prospects who made big splashes at the big league level, quite a few under-the-radar prospects made huge jumps this season and, well, aren’t so much under but on the radar now.

One of those prospects was the Indians catching prospect, Francisco Mejia.

It’s not like Mejia was an unknown prospect heading into 2016, it was simply that who he was as a prospect was an unknown. Mejia, who was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012 by the Indians, made a very impressive — albeit small — 30-game debut in the Arizona League in 2013. Eager to see what he could produce, the Indians moved him to the NYPL.

The then-18 year old had a very promising season at the plate, slashing .282/.339/.407 with two home runs for Mahoning Valley. His defense was behind his bat, but not poor as he made 11 errors in 339 chances (.972 fielding percentage) while throwing out 19 of 59 attempted base thieves (32-percent). All in all it was the progression the Indians needed to see, and Mejia jumped up their prospect charts.

Unfortunately, a 2015 that was on the opposite end of the spectrum saw many question marks arise about Mejia. He slashed .243/.324/.345 in the Midwest League. He saw his wRC+ drop 20 points from 119 to 99. He did, however, find some pop as he hit nine home runs. Still, with two promising seasons at Rookie and Short Season ball, more was expected from the 19 year old. By no means was his season a failure — he actually improved his caught stealing percentage to 34-percent behind an improved fielding percentage of .984 with the aforementioned power surge -- but it did look like Mejia, one of the youngest position players in the league, struggled adjusting to advanced pitching.

John jumped Mejia from a C+ to a B heading into 2015, and in The Baseball Prospect Book 2016, he dropped him to a B- after his somewhat disappointing season. Here was our own Mr. Sickels rationale:

I gave Francisco Mejia an optimistic Grade B last year, thinking his solid 2014 presaged a breakout in ’15. It didn’t happen, though the season wasn’t a disaster. He continues to demonstrate a cannon throwing arm and good mobility, but his glovework is rough around the edges leaving him vulnerable to errors and passed balls. That should improve in time but is not guaranteed (see Jorge Alfaro and Christian Bethancourt as examples of toolsy catchers who struggled to refine their skills). Mejia will flash power and has improved his over-aggressive approach but his overall productivity fell off against more experienced pitching. That said, he played the 2015 season at age 19 and is still quite young. I remain intrigued with Mejia’s upside but I think the grade last year was a notch too high. Grade B-.

It was a fair assessment. Perhaps Mejia read it and felt he had something to prove. He bounced back in 2016 and as the old adage goes… the rest is history.

All eyes were focused on Mejia for the bulk of the middle of the Minor League Baseball season. Mejia was a hitting machine, as he got a hit in every single game he appeared in from May 27th to August 14th. 50 straight games saw Mejia register a hit, which is considered the record for the modern era of Minor League Baseball starting with the league assignments in 1963, the fourth longest of all time. It was no ordinary feat either, as Mejia endured some bizarre twists and turns along the way. Here are some fun facts about the streak:

  • The hitting streak spanned two leagues. He was promoted from to Lynchburg of the Carolina League amid a 24-game hit streak and would hit in 26 more at High-A
  • He had root canal amid the streak, missed a few games and came back as if nothing happened
  • Technically speaking, it was a 52-game streak as he picked up a hit in both his MLB Futures Game debut and the Midwest League All Star Game, which of course isn't included in regular season stats, but still nonetheless amazing
  • He was the centerpiece of the Jonathan Lucroy trade that would eventually be vetoed by the All Star catcher, yet again, didn’t miss a beat when he realized he was staying put
  • He kept the hitting streak alive half the time in his first at bat. 25 times, Mejia left the first or second inning knowing his hitting streak was still in tact, including a July 23rd first inning grand slam

It wasn’t simply Mejia’s hitting streak that was impressive. He raked all season long, finishing the year with an eight-game hitting streak that saw him go 11-for-29. He added a 160 wRC+ while with Lake County and a 140 wRC+ once promoted to Lynchburg. His final slash line on the season was .342/.382/.514, striking out a very acceptable 15-percent of the time, with 11 home runs and a career best 29 doubles. Mejia’s bat came alive and there isn’t much reason to think it will go away.

Behind the plate you ask? Career highs across the board. A .988 fielding percentage behind a career best six passed balls shows that his receiving skills are improving. He also threw out 30 of 69 runners, good for a career high 48-percent. All this and still amongst the youngest in his league.

Next season will likely see Mejia in Double-A where he will once again be a youngster. While he still can make some improvements, he will enter 2016 as the most intriguing catching prospect in the game behind Jorge Alfaro. It will certainly be exciting to see what he does as an encore.