It’s been yet another banner season for Cleveland Indians top prospect, Francisco Mejia.
Mejia, of course, blew up on the scene behind a 50-game hitting streak last season. Split between Lake County and Lynchburg, Mejia slashed .342/.382/.514 with 11 home runs and 29 RBI. He immediately shot up the prospect lists, one of the top catching prospects in the minors, recently landing at No. 10 in our own John Sickels September Top 20.
The problem is, he may not be a catcher.
It’s not entirely surprising. When you see Mejia, you feel like his listed 5’10” frame is generous. He is small, and doesn’t have the frame of a typical catcher. But it’s not like players haven’t exceeded expectations behind the plate before Mejia.
There have long been rumblings that Mejia isn’t a fixture behind the plate. He’s improved his actual catching, as his passed balls have come down every season. He has a cannon of an arm, which isn’t a shock when you see how chiseled he is, but has only thrown out 33 percent of his runners over his career.
It should come as no surprise that the Dominican native emulated Ivan Rodriguez and Yadier Molina growing up, two Hall of Fame-caliber catchers that were a bit diminutive in stature but big in their play. That said, speaking to the Mejia, he understands where he needs to work, but one thing stood out.
“I work a little more with my catching coach,” Mejia said at the All Star Classic. “I need to learn more English to communicate with the pitchers and call better games.”
Mejia went into a slump after a busy All Star break -- one in which he played in the MLB Futures Game in Miami and Eastern League All Star Classic in New Hampshire in a four-day run — and his abilities behind the plate came into question. Reports were that he wasn’t zoned in, and there were some concerns reported about his ability to handle the pitching, a problem Mejia admittedly was aware.
Speaking to Thomas Pannonne, however, who was an All Star with Akron before being dealt to New Hampshire at the deadline, he seemed to really like his battery-mate:
“It’s big,” Pannone said of Mejia. “He’s a weapon back there. I’m sure you guys have seen his arm. The kid has a cannon. He back-picks guys at first base, throws guys out at second, and calls a great game. He’s evolved over the years. I was drafted in 2013, and he started with me in rookie ball then. He knows me pretty well, and I know him pretty well. He knows what I like to do and how I like to attack hitters.”
There is zero question that Mejia has the skills to succeed. It’s certainly curious that first the Indians tried to trade Mejia for Jonathan Lucroy last year, and now the Arizona Fall League experiment at the hot corner. If the Indians feel that Mejia is more focused at the plate, then perhaps it’s the right move.
Let’s face facts. If Mejia’s bat translates at the next level, as long as he can play mediocre defense, all will be right.
Here’s the 21-year-old’s swing from each side of the plate (video’s courtesy of The Minor League Prospect Video page). It’s exciting. He has quickness and strength and doesn’t seem to struggle from either side.
Mejia continues to tap into his power. He has a career-high 14 home runs this season, nine of which came before the post-All Star slump. That said, it also seems the bulk of his power comes facing righties as a lefty, with 17 doubles and nine home runs from that side. He has an aggressive swing, generating his power from that big leg kick and bat quickness.
He’s also is aggressive in his approach. Thanks to an innate ability to make consistent (and generally hard) contact, Mejia doesn’t strike out much, just 13.8 percent of the time this year which is just about his career norm. That said, he doesn’t walk much either, just 52 times in 826 at bats over the last two seasons.
It will be interesting to see how this all pans out for the Indians. Obviously, they have confidence in his defense, as a move to the hot corner isn’t an easy transition. It makes sense with his arm, but if instincts are a concern, it’s curious. He has the bat to profile as a third baseman, but to be fair, he has the bat to profile just about anywhere.
Just 21, Mejia skipped right over Triple-A and made his big league debut, a pinch-hit three-pitch fly out, and is expected to be used sparingly. He’ll likely see a bit more action once the Tribe locks it up, but the Arizona Fall League is where to pay attention. It will certainly be interesting to watch the transition and if Mejia’s path to the bigs is behind the plate or at the hot corner.