With a team as fortunate as the White Sox to have so many top prospects to talk about nightly, there will no doubt be players who get lost in the picture. I stumbled across one of those players the other day while writing a different article: Catcher Yermin Mercedes, currently playing with Charlotte.
Mercedes, 26, began his career in 2011 when he signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals. He was released in August of 2013 and later signed with the Baltimore Orioles in September 2014. He worked his way up to AA in 2017, but he was claimed by the White Sox in the Rule 5 Draft that same year. He spent all of last year in Winston-Salem, and has split this season between Birmingham and Charlotte.
The one consistency for Mercedes throughout his career has been his ability to hit. In 8 minor league seasons, he owns a career .302/.365/.481 slash line, with 71 homers. Here are his career numbers – and they’re pretty impressive:
According to wRC+, Mercedes has never been less than a league-average hitter (league average is 100). He has put up some incredible power numbers while keeping his K% under 20 percent every season. He appears to be a player who, although he is outside of the typical prospect age at 26, can still provide a lot of value to teams in the middle of the lineup. He has a really nice swing too – he makes use of his lower body really well. If you look at the featured image on this article, his swing even has elements of Eloy Jimenez’s – he has high leg kick and starts his hands pretty low.
However, here’s the downside: much like Zack Collins or Seby Zavala, Mercedes is considered a bat-first catcher. He has given up close to 20 passed balls per year as a Catcher, and has already given up 11 in 42 games thus far in 2019. In the worst of seasons, catchers will only give up around 10-15 per season. However, in his 74 innings in Charlotte, he has only allowed two passed balls – which is a significantly lower rate of passed balls than before. The positive part of Mercedes’ defense is definitely his arm – since joining the White Sox, Mercedes has thrown out 40% of baserunners, which would currently be the best percentage in the majors. If the White Sox find Mercedes to be an important part of the future, they must either give up on making him a C or help him put the work in to improve his abilities.
With his subpar defense but above average offense, Gary Sanchez is actually a good comparison player for Mercedes. Their stat lines are incredibly similar (Sanchez’s is shown below) in that they are filled with power and about a 20% K%. In addition, Sanchez allowed about 10 passed balls a season in the minors – a number that has risen in the majors, as Sanchez has twice led the league in passed balls with 16 and 18 in those seasons. It’s not a perfect comparison numbers-wise, but Sanchez is a good comparison as an overall player.
With Seby Zavala struggling so mightily this year with both the glove and the bat, opportunities should continue to arise for Mercedes in the second half of the season in Charlotte. With the way he’s been hitting, I’d gladly take the risk of DFA’ing Zavala – who is 25 years old himself – and give Mercedes a chance in the second half to earn his way to the major league level. The Sox need a backup C/1B to pair with Zack Collins, who is really only hitting against RHP, and Mercedes seems like the best option.
The difficulty, of course, is finding at-bats for all of these players. However, it is still a rebuild, so it is still the time to test the depth of talent the White Sox have. If the White Sox can set up a platoon DH with Collins and Mercedes, it gives the White Sox a way to test their prospects at the next level.
The White Sox have been fortunate as of late to find good catchers – James McCann and Omar Narvaez. Perhaps Mercedes can be the next unknown prospect to become a valuable piece of a major league ball club – or, at the very least, a valuable part of a trade. Because of what he’s done in the minors, he’s deserving of our attention.
Do You Have Any Thoughts on Yermin Mercedes? Let me know on Twitter: @jlazowski14
Featured Photo: Robert Hill/Winston-Salem Dash
Hopefully you print out and frame this article. Last night must have felt so good after his 5 for 5 first start!!!
Mercedes needs to be given his chance to play in Chicago. His consistency in hitting in the minors at every level indicates he will be successful in MLB also. He can DH and play 1b. He could end up being a valuable piece of the Sox’s starting lineup in the future.
I appreciate your report on Yermin Mercedes whom I have also noticed the last two years. What you didn’t touch on was whether he could play the outfield, but I would imagine it would be left which is already filled. Also, by pairing him with Collins at catcher, you appear not to consider McCann as part of the Sox future and frankly, when consider all the aspects that McCann brings to the position, I don’t see Collins ever becoming as valuable as McCann is now.
Yermin Mercedes has been an intriguing player to follow in the White Sox system, especially since he plays the position of catcher which is still very much in doubt for their future core lineup. I still maintain that the White Sox will likely go outside of the organization to fill that role if they’re not comfortable giving James McCann an extension to keep him on board beyond his final 2020 arbitration season. I hope they will extend him this offseason, along with Jose Abreu. If not, they may go hard after switch-hitting FA Yasmani Grandal who they reportedly had interest in last offseason before the catcher signed a one year pillow deal with the Brewers.
Defense and handling a pitching staff is priority #1 for any catcher, especially for a group as young as what the White Sox figure to have starting next season. Both McCann and Grandal can provide the necessary veteran presence along with some fine offensive numbers. I still don’t see that combination happening with any of White Sox catching prospects.