On Thursday, June 16 I was on hand to scout Midwest League action between the Lake County Captains and the South Bend Cubs at Four Winds Field in South Bend, Indiana. The Cubs won the game 5-1. Here are my notes on a handful of interesting prospects from Lake County.
Francisco Meijia: The switch-hitting catcher has one of the highest ceilings among Indians hitting prospects. John graded him at B- heading into the season noting his high upside and risk. At age 20, Mejia is repeating the Midwest League this year after spending last season as one of the youngest regulars in the circuit
Listed at 5-10, 175 pounds, Mejia lacks the typical physical stature of an elite catching prospect. What he lacks in size, he makes for up with a broad base of physical tools. Mejia has all the makings of an excellent defensive backstop. He moves well behind the plate and had no issues blocking or receiving in this game.
While not a particularly fast runner, Mejia is agile with quick feet that contribute to excellent blocking and throwing skills. His pop-times registered from 1.88-1.96 as he displayed a great combination of excellent arm strength, quick feet, and a quick transfer. His effort on balls in the dirt stood out as well.
In this game he had an excellent play where Cubs prospect Donnie Dewees, thinking he had a chance to advance on a ball in the dirt, came off of second base aggressively towards third. After realizing that Mejia had sprung to his feet and reached the ball, Dewees slammed on the brakes and slipped between second and third. Mejia fired in behind him to second allowing the Captains to nail Dewees as he tried to advance. It was both a great athletic and instinctual play.
Offensively, Mejia is making great strides in 2016 as well. After finishing last season with a .243/.324/.345 line, Mejia is off to a much better start this year, hitting .341/.376/.527 through the team's first 55 games. Mejia has good bat speed and more pop than his physical frame might suggest. He has already surpassed his total number of doubles and triples from last season and should establish a new career-high in homers as well.
His approach is aggressive at this stage in his career. Both his strikeout and walk rates are down in his repeat of the Midwest League indicating his preference to make sure he gets his hacks in at the dish.
All four of his at-bats on Thursday were from the left side. He struck out his first two times, once on a breaking ball and once on a change up. His third trip showed the better part of his offensive game as he smoked a first pitch fastball inside the bag at first for a double. He flew out to right field his last time up.
He showed a strong tendency to swing for damage and was largely geared towards his pull side. His natural bat speed and improving strength gives him a chance to be an offensive contributor, but he will need to continue to develop the finer points of his approach and pitch recognition lest he be carved up by better arms as he climbs the organizational ladder.
With a ceiling as a plus defender, and the tools to contribute on offense, Mejia is clearly one of the most exciting catching prospects in the low minors.
Willi Castro: Like Mejia last year, Castro is among the youngest regulars in the Midwest League this season. Unlike Mejia, Castro entered the league with a much more tempered brand of enthusiasm from prospect analysts. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, Castro headed stateside in 2014. He held his own in the Arizona League that year and showed moderate improvement in the New York-Penn League last year.
Castro is receiving his first crack at a full-season league as Lake County's starting shortstop. Listed at 6-1, 165 pounds, the 19 year old switch-hitter has a good frame with room to add strength, especially in his upper body.
Despite failing to reach league-average offensive production in his first two professional seasons, Castro is showing signs of progress this year. Through his first 61 games, he is hitting .272/.298/.412 which translates to 110 wRC+ in a fairly tough circuit for hitters.
Like Mejia, each of his at-bats on Thursday came from the left side. Castro features a short, compact left-handed swing. He lined a single to right field in his first trip. He also walked twice on the day and grounded out to second.
I was surprised to see that Castro has only walked nine times all season up to this point. While he was aggressive when it was appropriate, he also showed a good understanding of the strike zone during the two at-bats that ended with ball four. It would not surprise me to see him improve his on-base percentages as he gains experience.
Defensively, Castro showed very well. He handled each of his chances without incident. He made two nice plays on slowly hit ground balls, demonstrating athleticism, instincts, and the ability to make plays on the run. He also showcased a plus arm on a nice backhand play in the hole.
Although he has made 20 errors on the season so far, Castro has the athleticism, hands, and arm to remain at shortstop. I expect his defensive consistency to improve as he continues his developmental path.
Despite a solid package of tools and skills, the existence of Francisco Lindor probably means that Castro will never be the Indians starting shortstop. His development still bears monitoring for Cleveland fans as he could end up as trade bait down the line. I think he has a chance to hit enough to be a regular at second base if he remains with the organization.
Casey Shane: Lake County's starting pitcher was Casey Shane. Shane was a sixth round pick out of High School in Burleson Texas at age 17 back in 2013. He has had a slow, but steady progression through the Cleveland system as he spent most of his first three seasons at the Rookie and Short Season levels. John had him at Grade C coming into the season.
Listed at 6-4, 200 pounds, Shane has an ideal starting pitcher's frame. His fastball sat 88-91, topping out at 92 with some run. His breaking ball was a bit slurvy in the upper 70s and while he commands it well enough to make use of it, it lacks the bite necessary to project it as above average. He worked his change up in as well, but it was often too firm in the mid-80s.
Still just 20 years old, Shane is holding his own for Lake County. In 61.2 innings, he sports a 4.44 FIP, 5.84 K/9, and 3.79 BB/9. The stats and scouting reports tell the tale of a pitcher who lacks the stuff to miss bats on a consistent basis. There is enough to like here to keep him on the fringes of the prospect radar, but without a fundamental improvement in his secondary stuff, that is likely where he will remain.
I am planning to work up my notes on South Bend in the next couple of days.