Can Cleveland Indians outfielder Oscar Mercado return to his 2019 form?
Following the injury to Josh Naylor on Sunday, the Cleveland Indians were in need of an outfielder. Luckily, the team had plenty of options in-house to choose from. The one that was selected to be called up was outfielder Oscar Mercado.
The Tribe’s outfield is relatively set in terms of starters with Eddie Rosario, Harold Ramirez and Bradley Zimmer meaning that Mercado will likely start in a depth role. There’s a chance he could earn more time if he impresses, but there won’t be pressure on him to contribute every single day.
This will be Mercado’s first stint in Cleveland this season after what has been a Jekyll and Hyde career so far. His 2019 campaign was impressive and put him in the conversation for American League Rookie of the Year, but his 2020 season was a bit of a disappointment. Now, we get to see the 2021 edition.
Coming up, Mercado wasn’t exactly a top prospect so his emergence in 2019 came as a bit of a shock. Originally, he was a shortstop that the St. Louis Cardinals selected out of high school in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft. The Tribe then traded prospects Conner Capel and Jhon Torres for Mercado in July of 2018.
Throughout the minor leagues, Mercado hit the ball well. He kept his average north of .250 every season, no matter the level, from 2017 through 2019 when he cracked the big leagues. However, something changed during the 2020 season and he just hasn’t been able to right the wrong yet.
The 2020 season saw Mercado’s slash line plummet to .128/.174/.174 over 36 games. With no minor leagues, there wasn’t much of an opportunity for him to find his swing, so he’s had to essentially wait until this season to try it in a game scenario.
In Triple-A Columbus, Mercado has been doing better than he did in Cleveland in last season, but it still hasn’t been incredible. He’s only been slashing .216/.327/.392 with 13 doubles, one triple, five home runs, 23 RBI and nine stolen bases.
That’s not a great stat line, but there aren’t many better options for the Tribe to chose from on the 40-man roster. However, he’s already shown that he has the ability to play well in the majors. He had a rough patch, but the ability is there. He’s also been playing rather well as of late, which could have made him the favorite for the call up.
His role could be a perfect fit as well. Being called up now, Mercado will be able to ease back into the major leagues as a depth outfielder. Rosario and Ramirez have been playing really well of late and Zimmer has shown flashes and is nearing consistency. With those three playing at that level it takes all the pressure off of Mercado to produce immediately.
This time around, Mercado will be playing a totally different role than he did in the past. Before the outfield was just a big question mark with pressure for someone to emerge. Now, Mercado will just be a depth player at this point who will play as needed.
In Columbus, Mercado also was able to steal nine bases while being caught on the base paths just once. The Cleveland Indians have been middle of the road for stolen bases this year, tied for 12th in the league, so Mercado could add a new speed dynamic to the club.
Whether it be as a depth outfielder, a pinch-runner or an expanded role down the road, Mercado has a big opportunity ahead of him in Cleveland. He was once one of the bright spots in the team’s future, but wasn’t able to live up to the expectations in the short term. Now, he gets to go back to just playing baseball at the highest level.
If he can find his swing again and reclaim his pop from the 2019 season that would be a huge addition for the team. If he ends up struggling like he did in 2020, then the team will likely move on for the time being, as they have up to this point in the year. Either way, the Cleveland Indians will be able to learn more about the outlook of both Oscar Mercado and the team’s outfield moving forward into the rest of the 2021 season and beyond.