CLEVELAND -- Francisco Mejia did not head to the Arizona Fall League to become a third baseman, but he was open to trying his hand at the position. The Indians asked the young catcher to work at the hot corner with the idea of introducing some versatility to his game, and Mejia did not see the harm in expanding his skill set.
According to MLB Pipeline, Mejia is currently ranked as the best catching prospect in the Majors, the top prospect in the Indians' system and the 14th-best prospect overall in baseball. He got a taste of the big leagues last season with Cleveland and, following the third-base experiment in the AFL, Mejia is preparing for an important Spring Training with the Tribe.
"I worked a lot and I've gotten more used to it," Mejia said of third base, while attending MLB's Rookie Career Development Program earlier this month. "But, it's not exactly my position, because I've been a catcher since I was a kid. I am willing to [play some third], because if it's to help the team, I'll do it."
That willingness on Mejia's part was good to see for an Indians team that loves versatility among its players. Mejia is knocking on the big leagues' door, but Cleveland has a pair of veteran catchers in Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes, who have built a strong rapport with the team's talented pitching staff. For a contending club like Cleveland, that situation makes working a rookie like Mejia into the picture more complicated.
Right now, the Indians' infield projects to have Jason Kipnis at second base and All-Star Jose Ramirez at third, so it is not like the hot corner is Mejia's for the taking. But, if the young switch-hitter is deemed offensively capable of handling himself in the Majors at some point this year, having him able to play more than one position might help the Indians put all the puzzle pieces together.
"One thing we know," Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, said recently, "is he's a really good catcher right now and he made a lot of great progress defensively. Over the course of the last six months, he took a step toward increasing his versatility, so that's a big positive. Francisco deserves a lot of credit, not only for what he did in the Fall League, but over the course of the season, with how much he focused on his defense and the progress he made there."
Mejia, 22, only appeared in 11 games for the Indians last season, but enjoyed a standout showing with Double-A Akron. In 92 games in the Minors, the catcher turned in a .297/.346/.490 slash line with 14 home runs, 21 doubles, 52 RBIs, 52 runs scored and seven stolen bases. Mejia also threw out 30 percent of would-be basestealers.
The .835 OPS that Mejia posted in 2017 followed a breakout showing in '16, when he had an .896 OPS between Class A Lake County and Class A Advanced Lynchburg and made national headlines with a 50-game hitting streak. That performance, which vaulted Mejia up the prospect rankings, came after he had a .670 OPS in '15 for Lake County.
"It's been about the focus and focusing on the game," Mejia said. "When I finished the season in 2015, I went to the Dominican for a short time and came back to do a program that the [Indians] set up for me. I stayed with the team more than in the Dominican. The focus and the help of the coaches and new manager helped me a lot. I talked about a lot of things with the pitching coach.
"Also, I practiced a lot in the Dominican, seeing a lot of games there, too. I learned a lot in the winter league. I didn't play, but I was on the bench. That helped me a lot to see that in this game, it's not just you. There are a lot of people behind you waiting to take your job."
Now, Mejia is behind Perez and Gomes, trying to find his way to the big leagues.
"I think it's just getting to Spring Training and giving it my best," Mejia said, "showing [the team] that I have what it takes to play, all of that."