After a 50-game hit streak this past summer, catcher Francisco Mejia jumps up to number 4 on our Cleveland Indians 2017 top prospect countdown.
Who is Francisco Mejia?
After a headline-grabbing season, Francisco Mejia jumps up five spots from last season’s top prospect countdown, moving into our top five for 2017. The 21-year-old switch-hitter was signed by the Cleveland Indians out of the Dominican Republic in 2012. He’s a small catcher, standing just 5-foot-10 and weighing 175 pounds.
Mejia began the 2016 season at Class-A Lake County but eventually ended up in Advanced-A Lynchburg. Along the way, he also was named to the Futures Game and was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for Jonathan Lucroy before the deal was nixed.
He was then added to the Tribe’s 40-man roster after the season and got a taste of big league camp this March before being optioned to Akron.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Mejia’s biggest strength has been his hit tool, which he first showed off back in 2013 when he hit .305 as a 17-year-old in the Arizona Rookie League. However, he really broke out with it in a big way in 2016, hitting .342 between Lake County and Lynchburg.
He made national headlines with his 50-game hitting streak this past summer as well, which is the longest in modern minor league history and the fourth longest ever.
Mejia has a great stroke from both sides of the plate, showing the ability to hit both righties and lefties well. He also does a great job of covering the plate, as seen by his 14.2 percent strikeout rate in 2016, which fell as low as 13 percent at Lynchburg.
Mejia isn’t the biggest walk guy we have seen on this list, but also isn’t the worst. His on-base percentage is likely to always be more average driven than walk driven (think Michael Brantley instead of Carlos Santana).
Mejia has yet to show much in the way of power though he did hit a career-best 11 home runs in 2016 and his 44 extra base hits were just one shy of equaling his combined total from 2014 and 2015. He also led the all Tribe minor leaguers with a .514 slugging percentage, though that number is a bit misleading.
Related: No. 5, Bobby Bradley
His isolated power (ISO) was .172, which was good was far from tops in the system. Given his swing there’s hope he will continue to develop in the power department and could eventually reach 20 home runs a year.
Maybe the most interesting aspect of Mejia’s game comes on defense. He’s been one of the youngest catchers in each league he’s played to this point and yet he’s actually held his own behind the dish. He has an 80-grade arm, but his footwork and timing can still use some work behind the plate. He can get lazy at times, which is something that’s plagued him for years.
He made improvements across the board in 2016, though, and it looks like he could stick behind the plate. He still has a lot of work to do with the finer points, such as game calling and pitch framing. His speed is below average but he’s far from the slowest catcher you’ll ever meet, and he could probably move to the outfield or first base if needed.
Where does he go from here?
The Cleveland Indians had been very aggressive with Mejia before 2016, pushing him all the way to full-season ball at just 19 years old in 2015. It finally caught up to him with the lackluster year at the plate in 2015; however, after initially repeating a level to start 2016, Mejia finds himself right back on the fast track. After not slowing down in Lynchburg, he appears set to begin 2017 in Double-A Akron as the RubberDucks’ starting catcher.
The matter of how quickly Mejia can reach the big leagues is one of the more difficult and interesting topics to discuss. An issue that can be seen in a lot of young catchers, Mejia’s bat is well ahead of his glove. The Indians may have to decide at some point just how much they want his bat in the lineup versus giving him the proper amount of time to develop as a catcher in the minors.
If the Indians are willing to possibly move Mejia out from behind the plate, such as what the Chicago Cubs did with Kyle Schwarber, then there’s a chance Mejia could see Cleveland in 2018. If the Indians decide that getting the whole package is best, then 2019 or possibly 2020 are much more reasonable expectations.
Being on the 40-man definitely could play a role and speed things up too, as he will burn the first of his three options for sure in 2017.
One thing seems certain, no matter where he plays, Mejia is bound to hit. Baseball America rated him as the best hitter for average in the system and even named him their top overall prospect in the system this season. I am not ready to go that far with him, at least not yet.
If he were to move out from behind the plate his value takes a bit of a hit and his ceiling isn’t as high as the three guys above him. If, however, he continues to make strides defensively in 2017 then he very likely could be our top prospect heading into 2018 as a future .300-plus hitting catcher.