Rookies are fun, sometimes. They represent potential made manifest, their every success is viewed as an incredible victory, and they give any writer or analyst a treasure trove of articles as their every move is examined and reviewed. And when they’re actually good, forget about it. That’s where we see Oscar Mercado.
Rather unheralded as a minor leaguer, Mercado lit up the Indians’ minors system in his brief time and demanded a call-up. He’s been a nice steadying force for the Indians in the outfield. Even with that, there’s flaws to his game, because he’s a rookie. Let’s consider some.
Walk rate is probably the plainest one of anything Mercado doesn’t do amazingly well. Considering where he’s typically placed in the lineup, you’d hope for something better than a 5.6% walk rate. That ranks roughly 125th in baseball and 12th among Indians with at least 100 plate appearances. He does enough in terms of getting actual hits to make up for it, but if we’re nitpicking, this is certainly a growth opportunity. While it would be great if he could get to where was in Triple-A — something like 10% or 11% — any improvement would be welcome.
Other than that, though, even a long look leaves one wanting. It’s amazing — aside from not walking quite as much as you’d like there are no real holes in Mercado’s offensive game.
He’s not a superstar, but he’s far from bad at anything. He’s above league average in virtually every single stat, whether traditional rates like his .287/.333/.450 (league is .254/.324/.438) and the corresponding 102 wRC+, or in plate discipline rates where he makes more contact than league average (77.7% vs. 76.4%) or in batted ball numbers where his line drive and fly ball rates are consistently better than the league or his hard hit rates (39.1% on FanGraphs vs the baseball’s 38.2%), this is the basis of what could be a great player.
Right now, though, we don’t much care about his bat, even if it’s been a major reason the Tribe is in the hunt right now. No, he made a mistake. And apparently, semi-retired broadcasters who have “seen him throughout the season” have decided Oscar Mercado is not a major league outfielder. Which is, I don’t know, crazy I guess. I’m sure Keith Olbermann has seen Mercado on the handful of nationally televised games the Indians have gotten to be in, and maybe he did catch the two errors on May 27th against the Yankees in addition to the one against the Mets the other night. Funny that both were New York teams, and probably Mercado’s two worst gaffes of the year. Odd how that works out. Honestly though, Olbermann doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Which eyes are we to believe, those that see the guy every day or the New York resident who has seen like five games? What plays are we to trust, the weird bloop in Flushing or the diving catch against the Rangers two weeks ago? The fact is, Mercado has speed to cover center plus both gaps with his sprint speed in the 97th percentile of players, and his instincts are solid judging from his 60th percentile first step quickness. According to StatCast, he’s been worth two outs above average, though admittedly the -1.5 range factor is less then exciting. He dropped a can of corn, and that does suck. It did ultimately doom the team, and that sucks more. He’s probably as broken up about it as anyone, likely more so. This one moment doesn’t, can’t, encapsulate his career to this point.
More than anything, he’s a damn rookie. He’s still learning parks and players and positioning and how to be the best player he can be. No outfielder, no player, has entered the majors and been their best self after 80 games. We’ve seen young guys come in and set the world on fire, from Ronald Acuna to Pete Alonso to even Francisco Lindor, but all of them were at a starting point, not the full flower of their talent.
He may not be a perfect outfielder, he may never be a Gold Glover, but if the Indians do actually win a World Series this year, it will very much be in part because Mercado is on the team. To say he’s anything short of central to their success, to the solidification of what is now a great outfield, and to the continued excellence of the young starting pitching that’s been cast into the fire so early, to say he hasn’t helped with all this is to lie to yourself. That, or it’s just admitting you haven’t watched many Indians games. Whatever the case, this kid is great, and a picture of the future of the Indians’ success. That’s all there is to it.