Oscar Mercado will be optioned to Cleveland’s depth camp to start the season, according to manager Terry Francona.
Indians manager Terry Francona said they are sending Oscar Mercado to the depth camp.— Mandy Bell (@MandyBell02) March 21, 2021
Mercado was locked in a position battle for center field with Bradley Zimmer, Daniel Johnson, Ben Gamel, and Billy Hamilton to start spring training, with Amed Rosario joining the mix last week. With Mercado being optioned to start the season, just two days after Johnson, that leaves the job up for grabs between Zimmer, Gamel, and Rosario.
This will be Mercado’s final option year, meaning he can continue to be optioned throughout the year as necessary, but in 2022 and beyond he will either have to make the team on Opening Day or be placed on waivers.
Mercado, 26, was unable to follow-up on a promising rookie campaign that saw him slash .269/.318/.443 with 15 home runs in 2019. His 2020 season a disaster, and at one point he admitted that everything going on affected him mentally and may have contributed to the year he had at the plate.
“I felt like I was just constantly feeling sorry for myself, which is not something you want to do,” Mercado said. “Instead of really taking the bull by the horns and attacking things the right way, I kind of shut down a little bit, mentally.
“It was a learning experience and I was able to work on some of the stuff I needed to work on this offseason. It kind of showed me some of the things I lacked a little bit, and I’m feeling confident and prepared and ready to go.”
Following the demotion, Francona told reporters that they had a long talk with Mercado and “felt like he was beating himself up a little too much” in an effort to get better.
In addition to Mercado being optioned, the team also informed infielders Owen Miller and Tyler Freeman as well as catcher Beau Taylor that they would not make the team on Opening Day but will remain in big-league camp. These moves aren’t necessarily surprising — Miller and Taylor will see time later in the year if depth is required, and Freeman is likely the team’s future at either shortstop or second base.
Francona also announced that pitcher Trevor Stephan, a Rule 5 selection from December’s draft, will make the Opening Day roster out of the bullpen. Stephen was selected from the Yankees, where he pitched throughout his minor-league career with an xFIP that suggested he was better than his ERA. He’s never pitched above Double-A, but at 25 years old and missing what would have been his Triple-A season due to the global pandemic, it makes sense he’d be on track to hit the majors in 2021.
This spring with Cleveland, Stephan has routinely pitched with a fastball in the upper 90s, touching 98 at times.
In his preseason top prospects list, FanGraphs’ Eric Longehagen gave Stephan a 60-grade fastball with great extension off the mound.
Assuming Emmanuel Clase, James Karinchak, Phil Maton, and Nick Wittgren all make the bullpen along with Stephan, that leaves the final three or four spots down to a battle between Adam Putko, Blake Parker, Oliver Pérez, Bryan Shaw, Nick Sandlin, Kyle Nelson, Sam Hentges, and outfielder-turned-pitcher Anthony Gose.
Cleveland will play the Rangers today at 4:05 p.m. ET and are set to open the season in Detroit on April 1.