Anyone who pays attention to the top prospects in baseball knows that Francisco Mejia can hit. A 50-game hitting streak last season, the longest by any player at any level in over 60 years, can attest to that.
Mejia is currently ranked the 37th best prospect in all baseball and most publications have him listed as the number one catching prospect as well as the top prospect for the Cleveland Indians, but there’s plenty more to being a good baseball player than simply hitting the ball well.
MLB Pipeline gives Mejia’s arm strength a 70 out of 80, the strongest-rated arm in the entire Indians minor league system, and he’s flashed that cannon well thus far for the Double-A Akron RubberDucks, gunning down five out of six would-be base-stealers while also picking off four runners at first base.
But what about things that can’t be measured by looking at a box score? Catching is one of, if not the most difficult position in all of baseball due to all the little things you have to do consistently.
I spoke with Akron manager Mark Budzinski, who also coached Mejia in the second half of last season when he was the head skipper of the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats, about everything from Mejia’s pitch framing, work ethic, game-calling and even his attitude.
On coaching Mejia last year in Lynchburg:
“Francisco came up to Lynchburg last year after the All-Star break and kind of hit the ground running from a hitting standpoint continuing with his 50-game hit streak. A lot of our focus at that time was on the defensive side of things: receiving, blocking, he’s got a cannon for an arm, but reigning that in, making sure it’s accurate, which it has been, and he’s done an awesome job of that. It always helps having a player the year before because you know what they’re working on and see how they go about their business and how you can help them reach their dreams and helps us win championships at the Big League level.”
On Mejia’s pitch framing:
“He’s doing a great job, putting in a lot of time every day. The more the pitches hit the glove, the easier it is for him, but certainly the quieter a catcher can be behind the plate, receiving with soft hands, and giving the umpire a good look at the ball, it is measured. There’s a lot of statistics out there now and it’s something that we as an organization work on with all our catchers.”
On his relationship with pitchers and calling games:
“At the professional level, we let the catcher [call the games]. They have to learn how to do it in the big leagues. Certainly, we have some conversations between innings about pitch sequencing based on the hitter and the pitcher’s strengths obviously, but we allow our catchers to call games because they need to learn how to work with each pitcher, what their strengths are, what are the things even on a day-to-day basis, what do they have in their arsenal, what’s working and what’s not? They need to start recognizing that because when they deal with a Big League staff, they’ll have to learn quickly to help pitchers at that level and give us the best chance to win baseball games.”
On working with almost an entirely new pitching staff due to his rapid promotion to Double-A:
“Part of spring training helps with that, seeing some guys, working some bullpens, playing with guys in spring training games, but there’s a learning curve there, especially in the first month of the season. They get to know every pitcher and what they like to do, what their strengths are, what they like to do with runners in scoring position, what side of the plate they command the ball to and all that. It’s certainly a learning process we help them out with.”
On Mejia’s mechanics:
“As far as his throwing mechanics, I wouldn’t touch a thing. He gets the ball, has a good exchange from his glove to his hands, gets rid of it quickly, and he has a cannon that’s very accurate. It really helps with baserunners, whether he’s throwing them out or not, he’s keeping them closer to the base, which can help with double play turns, stopping them from going first to third and stuff like that. It doesn’t show up in the box score but it makes a difference between winning and losing games.
On his blocking and receiving skills:
“He also does a really good job of blocking and recovering. One of those pick-offs was when he blocked a ball and the runner got a little too far off on his secondary and he threw the ball behind him at first base. He blocks and recovers really well. It’s a huge asset for the pitching staff. The more you can keep that double play threat alive, the better chance you have at keeping innings from extending and earning W’s. He’s quick back there. If you don’t watch yourself, if you don’t get back hard enough after your secondary, he’ll get ya.”
On his work ethic:
“He’s been very attentive from spring training on working with Sandy [Alomar] and the catching coaches in spring training. Mejia spends a lot of time daily which includes receiving from thrown balls as well as from the machine. He works very hard every day with Omir Santos, our bench coach, who spends a lot of time with the catchers, stepping up his game in all aspects of the catching position.”
On rumors of Mejia’s immaturity and personality issues (Source):
“He’s certainly maturing. He’s been really good since he was with us from last year on. He’s a young kid, he’s just over 20 years old. You can’t expect a polished Big Leaguer at that age. He loves the game, he likes to have fun. He’s got a smile on his face all the time which we love. He loves to win and he comes in every day ready to compete. We can’t ask for anything more than that.”