Budding star Mejia represents future for Tribe

50-game hitting streak put young catcher on fans' radar

December 26th, 2016
Francisco Mejia was nearly traded to the Brewers, until Jonathan Lucroy nixed the deal.

CLEVELAND -- One by one, the names of the prospects the Brewers were going to receive surfaced in various reports. Soon, it became clear that, if was going to be donning an Indians uniform, catching prospect was a required part of the trade.

Mejia was the centerpiece of the five-player deal, which ultimately fell apart on the eve of the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, when Lucroy used his no-trade clause to block the transaction. Mejia would have headed to Milwaukee as a prized prospect, and that grabbed the attention of Cleveland fans who knew little about this young catcher.

"Any time we can keep one of our guys," Indians assistant general manager Carter Hawkins said, "you have a lot of happy, happy player-development staff."

By keeping Mejia, Cleveland retained one of the game's rising stars, and one of the best stories to came out of the Minor Leagues last season.

Following his breakout showing in '16, which included a 50-game hitting streak that was among the longest in Minor League history, Mejia jumped to No. 4 on the Indians' Top 30 prospects list, according to MLBPipeline.com. He is rated as the game's third-best catching prospect and is 84th on MLB's Top 100 chart. In November, Baseball America rated the 21-year-old Mejia as Cleveland's No. 1 prospect.

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It is not hard to understand why so much praise surrounds Mejia. He is a switch-hitting catcher who posted a .342 average and .896 OPS between Class A Lake County and Class A Advanced Lynchburg, while throwing out 43 percent (30-of-69) would-be basestealers. 

"I felt really good about this season," Mejia said through a translator at the Indians' fall development program in September. "Thanks to God, everything went really well."

Talk about an understatement.

Longest hitting streaks in Minor League history

Who could have predicted that on May 27, when Mejia sent a pitch from Fort Wayne's Jerry Keel into center for a single, that the catcher would embark on a historic run? For the next 78 days, Mejia overcome some minor health woes and a promotion to Lynchburg, plus the distractions that go along with All-Star appearances and trade rumors, while stringing together his hitting streak.

"There's just so many things that he fought through," said Hawkins, who was the director of player development last season. "He repeated a level. That's a very tough mental blow for guys as well. Put all those things together, the consistency that he showed, despite what was a really, really big step for him mentally. We feel like it really helped a foundation that he's going to be able to jump off from for years to come."

The 50-game streak was tied for the fourth-longest in Minor League history, trailing the 69-game run by Joe Wilhoit in 1919, the 61-game streak by Joe DiMaggio in 1933 and a 55-gamer by Roman Mejias in 1954. Mejia's streak matched the 50-game run by Otto Pahlman in 1922. On top of that, Mejia had a single in both the Midwest League All-Star Game (June 21) and All-Star Futures Game (July 10) during his streak.

The last hit came with a bit of controversy.

On Aug. 13, Mejia left Lynchburg's 7-5, 10-inning loss thinking he went 0-for-3. More than an hour after the game's conclusion, the official scorer made a change that brought Mejia's streak to 50 games. In the third inning, Winston-Salem third baseman Gerson Montilla was initially given an error on a chopper up the line that bounced into left field. Mantilla made a backhand stab at the roller, but it is hard to tell on video if the ball struck his glove. Mejia was later credited with a double.

Asked if he felt it was a hit, Mejia cracked a smile.

"I thought it was," he replied. "It didn't hit his glove or anything."

Mejia went 0-for-3 the following game, bringing a decisive end to his incredible run.

"As the streak was getting longer, I was feeling more pressure to get a hit every single game," Mejia said. "I felt a lot less stress, a lot less pressure. [After it ended] I was able to go to the games more calm and just focus on what I've always been focusing on without feeling like, 'I have to get a hit.'"

Over the streak, Mejia hit .386 with eight homers, 15 doubles, three triples and a 1.013 OPS. During the run, he had three stretches in which he missed four or more games. He missed time for the All-Star events and sat out games with a flu bug. On July 31, Mejia was on the bench as the trade reports swirled.

Outfielder Greg Allen was also in the reported package that was going to the Brewers, along with Minor League shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang and reliever . Allen was with Double-A Akron when Lucroy nixed the deal on July 31. Allen opened the year at Lynchburg, however, and witnessed Mejia record a hit in 13 games within his streak.

"It was special," Allen said. "I got to be a part of it for a couple weeks there. Just to see his improvement not only fundamentally as a hitter, but also his approach that he brought to the plate day in and day out, I think that's why he was able to be so effective and keep that streak for so long. It's because of the adjustments and the things he was able to improve on. It was special. It was fun to watch."

Consider that Mejia hit .243 with a .670 OPS in 2015 with Lake County. One year later, the catcher sported an average nearly 100 points higher and an OPS that flirted with .900 in his 102 games. Mejia finished 2016 with 11 homers, 29 doubles, four triples, 63 runs scored and 80 RBIs. Not only was he an outstanding defensive catcher, Mejia was now showing signs of turning a corner at the plate.

No wonder Milwaukee saw Mejia as a future cornerstone player.

Mejia is happy that he can continue striving for that potential with Cleveland.

"I felt really good," he said. "I felt really happy to stay with my friends and stay with my teammates. I was going to have to make new relationships. I'm happy to stay with the relationships that I already have."