Bopping backstop: Yermín Mercedes has slashed .311/.379/.566 for Birmingham and Charlotte this year with 21 homers and 72 RBIs in just 87 games. (Laura Wolff/Charlotte Knights)
Under the Radar details players in the Chicago White Sox system who may have suffered setbacks, gotten lost in the shuffle, or just haven’t surfaced as significant prospects as of yet. First up in the 2019 edition is Yermín Mercedes, an offensive-minded backstop who has been one of the best hitters in the White Sox system over the past two years.
Yermín Mercedes (C) — Charlotte Knights
Mercedes was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in the minor league phase of 2017’s Rule 5 draft. Before that, Mercedes had quite an interesting history.
At 18, the Dominican Republic native from La Romana (home of Edwin Encarnacion and Antonio Alfonseca, among others) signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals, in March 2011. After two successful offensive years with Washington’s DSL squad, where he slashed .313/.379/.397, he struggled to the tune of .255/.359/.439 in 2013 and was subsequently released. Mercedes spent 2014 dominating the independent Pecos League, playing for such teams as the White Sands (N.M.) Pupfish, Douglas (Ariz.) Diablos, and San Angelo (Texas) Colts, with a .380/.420/.699 slash line. He was then signed as a free agent by the Orioles on Sept. 8, 2014.
From 2015 to 2017, Mercedes continued raking with Delmarva (A), Frederick (A+), and Bowie (AA). During those three years, he hit .304/.359/.504, with a combined 54 homers. For the Winston-Salem Dash in 2018, Mercedes continued pounding to the ball to a .289/.362/.478 slash line, with 24 doubles, 14 homers, 64 RBI, and 40 walks (9.8 BB%) compared to 67 strikeouts (16.3 K%) over 360 at-bats.
After returning to Double-A to begin this year (he played just 12 games for Bowie in 2017), Mercedes started mashing from Day 1. In 42 games spanning 147 at-bats, he slashed .327/.389/.497 for Birmingham with seven doubles, six homers, 18 RBIs, 17 walks (10.4%) and 25 strikeouts (15.2%). Since earning yet another promotion on June 20, he has absolutely mashed in Charlotte, despite lower walk and higher strikeout totals.
Through August 15, encompassing 38 games and 136 at-bats, Mercedes slashed .309/.386/.640 with nine doubles, 12 homers, 46 RBIs (which equates to 196 RBIs over a 162-game season), 16 walks (10.5%) and 34 strikeouts (22.4%). These are his combined totals through August 15, covering 80 games and 283 at-bats:
.318/.388/.566, 16 2B, 18 HR, 64 RBI, 33 BB (10.4%), 59 K (18.7%), 2-for-2 SB
While Mercedes certainly has clobbered southpaws this year, with an incredible .351/.425/.688 slash line, he’s more than held his own against righties by slashing .306/.376/.519. Thus, if Mercedes earns a promotion to the South Side, he doesn’t have to be a platoon specialist. Finally, as evidenced by his high RBI total in Charlotte, Mercedes is definitely not afraid to hit with runners in scoring position; so far in Charlotte, he’s slashed an incredible .360/.386/.800, which would indeed be a welcome change with what fans have been forced to endure on the South Side for far too long.
While Mercedes’ numbers this year have been sensational, there are a couple of red flags. While his walk rate has remained the same, his strikeout rate has ballooned while in Charlotte. Also, his splits at home for the Knights (.353/.392/.735) have far exceeded his numbers on the road (.265/.381/.544). Part of the issue is that he seems to be selling out for the long-ball in Charlotte, as he’s walked just four times while fanning 18 times in 68 at-bats at BB&T Ballpark; on the road, he’s walked 12 times while striking out just 16 times away from home. It’s interesting to note, though, that Mercedes has hit for an incredibly high average at Charlotte despite his relatively low number of walks. It’s also important to note that his road numbers really aren’t all that bad.
Mercedes is listed at 5´11´´ and 175 pounds, which is hard to believe based on his photos and videos, so I’m more inclined to believe the Knights roster page which lists him at 225 (and even that may be conservative). He definitely profiles as an offensive-minded catcher, but one who actually throws out his fair share of baserunners. In fact, not only did he throw out 41% of attempted basestealers last year for the Dash, he’s thrown out an even greater percentage this year for the Knights and Barons (43%).
While Mercedes has been rock-solid against the running game, he’s had his problems defensively keeping pitches in front of him. Last year for the Dash, he committed 11 passed balls in 79 games, which is an incredibly large amount. It’s been even worse this year, as he’s relinquished 15 passed balls in just 52 games behind the plate. These aren’t merely aberrations, as he actually allowed 24 passed balls in just 62 games for Orioles affiliates in 2016. This, of course, doesn’t even include the wild pitches he’s allowed.
With such issues defensively, pitchers are hesitant to throw anything straying far from the plate with him as the backstop. Thus, despite his ability to gun down attempted basestealers, he’s an extreme defensive liability. Mercedes is now 26, and is therefore unlikely to improve his defense much going forward. His defensive ability (or lack thereof) is likely the reason why he hadn’t advanced to Triple-A until this year, and is also likely the reason why he’s recently played games for the Knights at both infield corners. While he profiles as a DH, it certainly wouldn’t hurt if he proves the ability to man the infield corners acceptably, while also being a third-string catcher. That versatility may be enough to earn him another promotion before the year is out.
One final caveat: Mercedes will be eligible for selection in this year’s Rule 5 draft. Because of his defense, and due to the fact he’s not a coveted left-handed bat, he’s really on the cusp of being unprotected. This would be a shame, because he certainly seems to have the offensive chops to be a significant, low-cost upgrade to the DH slot for 2019 and beyond. Below is just a sample of what he can do: