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Francisco Mejia still has roadblocks in the outfield

Alex Hooper
March 13, 2018 - 12:52 pm

Francisco Mejia’s run with the big league club at Spring Training came to an end on March 12th, as he was optioned to Triple-A Columbus. The intent of shipping him out was to accelerate his return to the majors.

The team’s top prospect is currently blocked by two of the game’s best defensive catchers in Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez, but Manager Terry Francona and the rest of the organization want Mejia’s bat in the lineup as soon as possible.

“We wanted to reinforce that this is by no means an indictment on his catching,” Francona said Monday. “If anything, we were really pleased with his progression. We just told him ‘Look, we have Perez and Gomes. Do the math.’ He’s such an advanced hitter that if he’s able to play another position, and then there’s an injury or something, he could find himself not only in the big leagues or playing.”

With an outfield in search of a right-handed bat to spell a starting group of all lefties, the 22-year-old switch-hitter could certainly prove as the best bat available. His capability to play the position will be seen in the coming weeks.

Mejia certainly has the arm to play right, projecting a 70/double-plus arm from behind the dish, but his range could prove an issue. As a catcher, Mejia projects just 45 as a fielder and 40 raw speed on the basepaths. Will he have the range to play regularly in the outfield?

While the arm projects to be effective as a right fielder, Progressive Field generally plays well to hitters going to right-field, indicated by 100+ park factors for left-handed hitters (100 indicates league average offense).

A spacious right field could be troublesome for the less fleet-of-foot, though it could be offset by the incredibly rangy Bradley Zimmer in center.

Not to mention Fangraphs/The Athletic’s Travis Sawchick pointing out that the Indians should consider adding hitting at the expense of fielding. Sawchick notes that plays at every position but left field and third base have decreased each year since 2014 because of the rising HR and K rates, making it more beneficial to err on the side of offense.

That would indicate Mejia.

Despite an actual uptick in left field plays, the position saw just around 6,000 plays in 2017, the least of any position in the majors. A big arm would not hurt in left field, especially with the mini-monster playing up double numbers for righties and lefties alike.

Michael Brantley’s arm and ability to play the left field wall has proven an asset in recent years, but therein lies another issue in itself. Brantley.

When healthy, the All-Star should be penciled into the Indians lineup each day and is not a candidate for a platoon. That fleeting health could bode well for Mejia should he make strides at the position, but is not best case for the team.

Lonnie Chisenhall saw a jump in production against lefties in 2016, again when healthy. There is no immediate need to move off of the lefty in right field, especially in favor of a player who is learning the position.

Melvin Upton Jr. and Rajai Davis have each performed well in Spring Training, with the former still the leader in the clubhouse to be the fourth outfielder when camp breaks. Brandon Guyer’s recovery will influence the position as well.

Prior to his 50-game hit streak in A-Ball during the 2016 season, Mejia was benched on multiple occasions for a lack of hustle. Word out of the farm system is that the prospect has curbed any possible effort issues in the season since, but would obviously not be tolerated at the major league level, especially as Francona preached ‘winning baseball’ towards Yandy Diaz recently.

It would be difficult to point the finger at Mejia at this point anyway, given that he has already made the effort to try third base, and is making another switch.

“I don’t know how excited he was to play third base,” Francona added. “If you want to be a full-time catcher, we’ll back you 100 percent, but when he laid it out for him there, he was like ‘No, I need to do this.’”

Mejia has also shown great growth behind the plate, despite not yet being at the level of Gomes and Perez. The ability to learn the game’s toughest position psychologically shows obvious mental aptitude, making it easier to believe he could handle the corner outfield, which resides towards the bottom of the defensive hierarchy.