The Tampa Bay Rays are renowned for their ability to develop young, projectable pitching prospects. So when the organization expresses the level of excitement that it currently does regarding 2017 second-round Draft pick Michael Mercado, it's a reason to take notice."He had a great first year," Rays Director of Minor
The Tampa Bay Rays are renowned for their ability to develop young, projectable pitching prospects. So when the organization expresses the level of excitement that it currently does regarding 2017 second-round Draft pick Michael Mercado, it's a reason to take notice.
"He had a great first year," Rays Director of Minor League Operations Mitch Lukevics said about Mercado, the club's No. 15 prospect. "Michael's really tall and lanky with a good delivery and pinpoint control at a young age. It's impressive stuff that will only get better as he matures."
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The Rays selected Mercado 40th overall in this year's Draft out of Westview (Calif.) High, where he posted 97 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings while allowing just 29 hits and 17 walks. He signed for $2,132,400, more than $400,000 above his slot's value.
Mercado was stellar during his professional debut in the Rookie Gulf Coast League. Making eight starts for the GCL Rays, the 18-year-old right-hander pitched to a 1.69 ERA with a 1.17 WHIP and a 14-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 21 1/3 innings. He also completed three innings in five of his eight turns, all scoreless performances.
Though not overpowering, Mercado's feel for his advanced four-pitch mix belies his age. His low-90s fastball and curveball project as at least above-average pitches, and his changeup could earn a similar grade once fully developed. Yet it's his remaining physical projection that has club officials most excited about the 6-foot-4, 160-pounder's future.
"He's tall and skinny, and for him to be able to throw 91-93 mph with that type of body, he allows me to dream of the future," Lukevics said. "His lanky body type is only going to grow and get bigger and stronger, and all of his pitches are going to get better."
After completing his professional debut, Mercado, along with much of the Rays' 2017 Class, participated in the organization's fall instructional league in Sarasota, Fla. Despite a limited workload, Lukevics was still highly impressed with the teenage righty's overall capacity for fine-tuning his game.
"Like all young pitchers, he worked on refining his delivery and refining his feel for the baseball. They're here to get better and refine what they already have, and he's doing that."
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.