Mercado’s torrid spring has Tribe’s attention

March 12th, 2019

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Oscar Mercado has had a spring that can only make Indians fans excited for the future. And with the Tribe’s current need in the outfield, it’s almost as if a brighter spotlight is shining on the 24-year-old prospect.

In the long run, Mercado’s red-hot spring numbers won’t matter much, but what he’s done has given everyone a glimpse of what tools he has to offer. In Monday’s 5-5 tie with the Reds, Mercado’s 1-for-2 performance lifted his average to .448 through 15 games.

“You just want to show, especially to your coaching staff, your teammates and everyone, that you can help this team win in whatever way possible,” Mercado said.

It’s unlikely that Mercado, who was traded by St. Louis at the end of July, will break camp with Cleveland after spending just 32 games in the Indians’ organization, but he has started to lay the groundwork to get his first call to the Majors sooner rather than later.

“Guys that don’t make the team, we always tell them, ‘This doesn’t define you if you have a bad spring or a good spring,’” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But it’s nice to see what their physical tools are when they work.”

Although it’s hard to picture him anywhere but the outfield, Mercado began as an infielder, playing shortstop through his first two and a half years in the Minor Leagues. In the middle of the 2016 season with Class A Palm Beach, he made the transition to center after struggling at short.

“Like, no, I wasn’t a very good shortstop,” Mercado said with a laugh. “It’s like, ‘OK… maybe I can be a pretty good center fielder.’ That's kind of what went through my mind. ... I was excited. And it kind of felt like it was a new start. That, to me, felt like the biggest thing. It was like, ‘Here comes a second stage of your career. Make the most of it.’ That’s kind of the way I viewed it, and still view it.”

Mercado had both the speed and arm to make the transition, and the move has paid off. Since then, his offensive numbers have improved, hitting .287 in 2017 and .285 through his first 100 games with St. Louis in ’18, compared to his previous high of .254 in ‘15. But it still came with its early challenges.

“I was a circus out there,” Mercado said as he smiled. “I remember one of my teammates coming up to me. He was like, ‘Yo, don’t try to run around in so many different directions.’ I was like, ‘All right. My bad. I’ll try not to.’ Nah, he was just messing around with me. But every little inning, or every fly ball or every pitch, it’s just a way to getting better.”

When he joined the Indians, Mercado was pressing at the plate to impress his new team, which resulted in a .252 average in 32 games in Columbus. In the offseason, he worked on his swing with some coaches in the organization and has impressed Francona with his results.

“The biggest thing was just learning how to drive the ball more consistently,” Mercado said. “The last few years, I’ve been pretty pleased with how my years have gone, but I just wanted to be able to kind of take my game to the next level. … My biggest thing was like, ‘OK, so if I’m here, how can I get there?’”

When Mercado sat down with Francona at the beginning of camp, the manager told him to not be afraid of asking questions or doing his own thing.

He hasn’t disappointed.

“His balance at the plate right now is unbelievable,” Francona said. “He’s come so far. The guys that worked with him when he came over did such a good job with him. And he deserves all the credit, he’s a terrific worker. But man, does he look good.”