Wednesday, I retweeted the Indians’ minor league statistics from TribeInsider, highlighting Oscar Mercado’s 4-for-5 day, with two doubles and homer, and issuing a rallying call.
Unleash Oscar, please.
Of course, that call was then greeted with a sad, but realistic alternative-reality:
*selects the contract of Cameron Maybin*— luke (@LakeEffectBro) April 24, 2019
Oh, how things can change in 24 hours. The Indians did select the contract of Maybin, selecting it as trade fodder to the banged up New York Yankees in exchange for the almighty dollar(s).
(Yes, the Indians acquired cash. Get them jokes off.)
Alas, the #UnleashMercado movement is alive and well. Perhaps more than ever.
For the record, we here at Lets Go Tribe are encouraging the use of #UnleashMercado instead of #FreeMercado because, well, we all wanted to #FreeYandy, and it looks to have sent the wrong message. He’s a little too free now.
During 2016 on the beat, then-scouting director Brad Grant mentioned in his pre-draft presser that the organization liked to see prospects see some adversity prior to promotion. Mercado has seen plenty in his time through the minors, but is currently experiencing the opposite of adversity.
The 24-year-old speedster followed up his tweet-inducing dinger on Tuesday night with a leadoff bomb on Thursday afternoon.
Cue the banter.
Even prior to Thursday’s follow-up dong, it seemed pretty obvious that the woeful Indians needed to bolster their outfield, 25th in baseball in wRC+ (66).
The Carlos González experiment must go on, or it must end. Tyler Naquin has an option left, but he does not really have much to gain from hitting at Triple-A for any longer. Greg Allen has seemingly fallen out of favor as a consistent starter, but his quality as a runner gives him an edge as a bench piece who does not need to play every day.
No one is expecting a huge free agent splash, despite the assured windfall of cash received from the Empire. That of course leaves two realistic options: Mercado and Jordan Luplow.
But first, the reasons why not.
The first is simple: Jordan Luplow’s final option has been used on this season. The clock is now officially ticking on a team with a dearth of outfielders to figure out what they have in one of their young options.
Luplow is back to his minors-mashing ways, slashing .344/.447/.531 in his first eight games since heading south on I-71. The 25-year-old has never had a minor-league wRC+ under 129, and he has nothing left to prove below the majors. He is also right handed.
The clock not having begun on Mercado makes him all-the-more valuable as a minor leaguer, even though the Vlad Jr. deadline has passed.
Secondly, assuming Allen does remain, the pair’s skill sets resemble each other more closely than a major league roster often allows. The exception to that rule has arose in Kansas City, in an environment where such experiments are allowed to fully unfold.
Otherwise, teams do not normally carry more than one speed-and-defense first outfielder, unless they can hit at least near league average. Those skillsets do not exist en masse, but the prototypical run-first, negative-bat outfielder does.
Luckily for Mercado, despite only one full minor league season with a wRC+ above 100, it would seem that he is well on his way to becoming one of those rarer types with the hit tool. Going off of the way Tribe GM Mike Chernoff spoke about the prospect in the offseason, it sounds as if they believe in that change as well.
Judging by the narrative surrounding Mercado, you would have gotten the impression that he did fit into that more-Delino DeShields Jr., less-Rickey Henderson speed archetype. It just had never really been the consensus among scouts.
Mercado’s FanGraphs profile lists him as having a current 50/future 55 hit tool, while MLB pipeline has him at 45. A league average bat has always been a projected floor to go with the 50+ run, fielding and throwing tools projected by both outlets.
While it is easy to just equate Mercado with Allen … or Cedric Mullins … or Socrates Brito … on account of speed generally being the main aspect of a one-dimensional prospect, Mercado has always been held in a higher regard than all of those listed.
The organization obviously knows its own asset’s hitting prowess, and perhaps viewing Mercado as a direct upgrade to Allen will be the former’s path to the bigs. Mercado is likely viewed as too talented to be used in a part-time role.
Good thing the major league club needs a full-time outfielder.
Luplow is what he is. He appeared 23rd on Pipeline’s top 30 Pittsburgh Pirates prospects list prior to being procured by the Indians. At that time, his hit tool — Luplow’s main tool — was projected to be a 45.
In fairness, he’s also been an above average left fielder to the tune of six defensive runs saved over a (small sample size alert) 183-inning span. Luplow being above average in left or not, Mercado has taken to center field, has played both corners, and done it well.
In no way is this a declaration that scouting grades are perfectly accurate and should be rigidly adhered to, simply an indication that Mercado is probably the best option the Indians have.
That, his precious service time, and the urgency of Luplow’s situation are why they will likely not #UnleashMercado until absolutely necessary.
*Recalls OF Jordan Luplow*