Mejia's efforts paying off in spring

March 6th, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- is a dangerous hitter when he swings at the right pitches. He swung at all the right pitches Tuesday.

The Padres' No. 4 prospect went 3-for-3 with a double and a homer in a 7-7 tie against Seattle. He's been red-hot all spring and is now 8-for-16 with four extra-base hits and two walks.

"The bat speed, the hand-eye coordination, the bat-to-ball, he has all that stuff," said bench coach Rod Barajas, who served as split-squad manager Tuesday. "He's elite in that category. This guy can hit balls above his head and down by his feet. But we don't want him hitting those balls. That's why we're really stressing the plate discipline."

Indeed, discipline has been the offensive focus for Mejia, whose chase rate ranked among the highest in baseball last season. Behind the dish, Mejia boasts similar athleticism and a cannon for an arm. But the Padres have made efforts to hone his framing abilities.

Mejia is clearly an immensely talented player. But as a 23-year-old catcher, he's still raw. There's a refinement period ahead, and it began during the offseason in the Dominican Winter League.

"I've gotten a little bit better," Mejia said. "But I honestly still have a lot to improve on. I have to keep working."

He's also put serious effort into improving his English, knowing the potential benefits for handling a pitching staff. Mejia took classes during the offseason in the Dominican Republic and he expects to continue doing so during the season -- wherever he ends up.

As things stand, Mejia is squarely on the bubble for a roster place. Austin Hedges is the No. 1 backstop right now, though Mejia could make a push to split playing time. Veteran Chris Stewart and prospect Austin Allen are in the mix as well.

It seems unlikely that the Padres would carry Mejia as a traditional backup, preferring instead to give him everyday at-bats. But if the Hedges/Mejia split were projected as closer to 60/40, Mejia would be a big leaguer on Opening Day.

In that sense, Mejia's switch-hitting ability could make him a platoon option with the righty-hitting Hedges (though Hedges' splits were reversed last year). All three of Mejia's hits Tuesday came from the left side. On his homer, he golfed a hanging Mike Leake curveball into the Padres bullpen.

Despite the obvious quest for big league playing time, Mejia hasn't viewed his time with Hedges as a competition, per se. He sees it as a tutorial from one of the game's best all-around defensive catchers.

"Competition wise, I'm honestly just learning from him," Mejia said. "He's someone who's had a ton of experience in the big leagues and in catching. It's about talking to him about pitches and about pitchers and trying to learn something every day from him."

Covering the bases

First: Bryan Mitchell is running out of time in his quest to win a rotation spot. The Padres right-hander allowed four runs in 2 1/3 frames, including a fifth-inning Domingo Santana homer. Mitchell also walked three more hitters, bringing his spring total to eight in seven innings, as his ERA jumped to 7.71.

Second: New Padres second baseman Ian Kinsler went 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI against the Mariners. He's batted leadoff in all four games he's played this spring. Kinsler boasts a .339 on-base percentage during his 13-year career, though that's dropped significantly in the past two years. Asked if he liked Kinsler in the leadoff spot, manager Andy Green said: "I have always liked guys who get on base to hit at the top of the order, and he's done that very, very well throughout his entire career."

Third: Padres fans, get used to this Fernando Tatis Jr.-Eric Hosmer connection. Tatis, the Padres' top prospect, made a brilliant sliding play at shortstop in the top of the fourth inning. He rose to his feet and fired to first, where Hosmer stretched and made a smooth pick on Tatis' in-between hop.

Home: Infield prospect Owen Miller hasn't stopped hitting since San Diego drafted him in the third round out of Illinois State last June. On Tuesday, he suited up for the Padres for the first time, and he made it count. Miller, currently ranked as the team's No. 26 prospect, demolished a fastball from Mariners reliever Justin Dunn into the left-field bullpen. The homer tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Up next

Jacob Nix is set for his third Cactus League start Wednesday night when the Padres head to Goodyear to face the Reds at 5:05 PT. The right-hander is fighting for a rotation spot and has impressed thus far with a 1.93 ERA. Closer Kirby Yates, making his second appearance of the spring, is slated to follow Nix.