Pictured above is Francisco Mejia in a Columbus Clippers uniform. Photo credit to Cathryn Wood
Francisco Mejia entered this season as one of the Cleveland Indians’ most prized assets. Although he hasn’t exactly gotten off to a hot start this year, his luster certainly hasn’t diminished so far this season with the Columbus Clippers.
Mejia signed with the Tribe in 2012 as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic at the age of 17. He immediately garnered attention among the scouting community, but really opened some eyes in 2016 with a 50-game hitting streak in Class-A that summer—ending the season with a .342 batting average.
In July, 2016, while in the midst of his hitting streak, he became a household name for Tribe fans when he was the main part of a trade going to the Milwaukee Brewers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy infamously vetoed the deal by invoking his no-trade clause and the rest is history: Lucroy was eventually traded to the Texas Rangers, who got swept in the Americal League Division Series by the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Tribe lost in the World Series to the Chicago Cubs.
Meanwhile, Francisco Mejia remained with the Indians’ organization.
After being ranked the 85th best prospect in Major League Baseball in 2016, Mejia shot up to 14th in 2017 after his breakout season. He went on to hit .297 with a career high 14 homeruns in Double-A Akron, ultimately getting a call up to Cleveland in September when rosters expanded down the stretch.
Mejia commented on the opportunity he got in the Major Leagues last September:
I got a bunch of experience with all of them. I felt very good with Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce…they helped me a lot. They gave me tips to get better.
Francisco Mejia came into the 2018 season ranked 11th overall and the top catching prospect in the MLB. The 22-year-old’s primary calling card is his hitting ability. He’s a switch hitter with a career .288 batting average in the minor leagues. His strikeout rate has consistently been hovering around 15%, which is considered above average, especially for such a young player.
At 5-foot-10, 180 lbs., he doesn’t figure to have a ton of power, but has seen his homerun output increase from nine in 2015, to 11 in 2016, to 14 in 2017. At maturity, 20-25 homers isn’t out of the question, a number which any team would be thrilled with from their catcher.
Defensively, he has a great arm but is continuing to work on the other aspects of catching. Mejia himself commented on what he’s focusing on behind the plate:
I’m working a lot with the pitchers…better communication with the pitchers. And blocking the balls.
The Indians’ organization has worked recently on finding creative ways to get his bat up to the Majors quicker. Although they don’t want to completely move him away from his primary position at catcher, they are experimenting with playing him at other positions. He got a brief look at third base last fall but has primarily been getting reps in the outfield this year. Through the two months of this season, he’s played left field in 14 games compared to 20 at catcher.
His play in the outfield is reportedly a work in progress, but Mejia is committed to improving:
I feel good, and it’s something that’s going to help me play better.
The Tribe has the luxury of letting him get continued seasoning in the Minor Leagues considering the production they’re getting from the players up in Cleveland.
The outfield appears to be pretty crowded with guys like Michael Brantley, Bradley Zimmer, Tyler Naquin, Rajai Davis, Brandon Guyer, Melky Cabrera, and Lonnie Chisenhall (when healthy) all fighting for playing time. That’s not to say Francisco Mejia wouldn’t fit in, but there’s at least no urgent need to force him in at the moment.
Catcher seems to be where the team could use some improvement offensively. Collectively, Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez have put up decent numbers at the plate. Between the two, they hit 22 homeruns with 94 runs batted in last year, although their combined .222 batting average left something to be desired.
Through two months this season, however, Francisco Mejia isn’t exactly forcing his way up to the Major Leagues, hitting under .200 with a homerun total that can be counted on one hand.
His hitting coach this year in Columbus, Johnny Narron, who also happened to be his hitting coach last year in Akron, uses a positive approach with the young players. Narron talked about what he’s worked on with Mejia through the early going this season, saying:
The key for Mejia, for Francisco, is to be on time…to be set in launch position on time.
Narron continued, saying Mejia has:
A good approach, it’s just a matter of getting consistent with it.
The Clippers’ hitting coach also admitted:
Early on it was real cold out and, in his defense, we had some situations that were tough to hit in.
On top of the harsh conditions, Mejia battled an arm injury in mid-May which certainly didn’t help in his search for consistency. As the weather heats up, however, he has the track record to suggest a turn-around is coming.
If given the opportunity to get called up to the big leagues, Mejia appears primed to make his presence felt sooner than later considering the franchise’s recent history handling catching prospects.
In 2002, Victor Martinez, a switch hitter, got a brief call-up to Cleveland in September after a big year in Double-A Akron. He returned to Triple-A (Buffalo at that time) the following season for 73 games before getting promoted to the Majors for good in August, 2003.
In 2009, Carlos Santana, also a switch hitter, put up impressive numbers in Akron although he didn’t get a taste of big-league action late that season. He advanced to Columbus the next year, where he played 57 games before getting called up to Cleveland in June.
The similarities aren’t lost on Mejia, who acknowledged his excitement when asked about whether he ever thinks about following in their footsteps:
Yeah, of course! Those guys and Jose Ramirez. Playing this position and making it to the top.
Jose Ramirez, who’s yet another switch hitter, is from the same town in the Dominican Republic as Mejia, Bani. He’s taken Mejia under his wing as he works his way up the ladder in the organization. This spring, Ramirez called Mejia “the best hitter on the team,” an indication of how much promise the young catcher has.
Fans in Columbus have a great opportunity to watch Mejia grow and develop as he attempts to move up to the Major Leagues. Indians fans should be excitied for what’s coming their way because Mejia has big goals for not only himself, but the organization as well:
If God lets me me do a good job, and I hope…as the Cleveland team is doing very well…I expect to win the World Series [with them]. Because it’s what we want. Because it’s what we need.