No. 30 prospect Mercado perfect in long-awaited debut

June 25th, 2024

DETROIT -- When the moment finally came on Monday night for , his fan section was very calm. His mother and his high school pitching coach rose from their seats behind home plate at Comerica Park, took out their phones and recorded each step of Mercado’s leisurely jog in from the bullpen in left-center field. Mercado’s father remained seated but leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees.

This was a moment of a whole lifetime, seven years or eight innings in the making, depending on who you asked. And everyone involved was all in.

“It's surreal,” said Mercado’s mother, Shelley. “We're just so happy for him. We just feel grateful. We're so happy for him and excited because he's worked so hard, and it's been a long journey.”

The Phillies’ No. 30 prospect wasted no time dispatching the Tigers in his MLB debut, tossing a tidy eighth inning during Philadelphia’s 8-1 win in the series opener. For all Mercado had fought to be there in that moment, it was over fairly quickly. Fifteen pitches, 11 for strikes and one strikeout equaled one perfect inning.

“He had really good depth and really good spin,” manager Rob Thomson said. “Fastball’s 97 [mph] … all three hitters, first-pitch strikes.

“The poise was really good for a guy making his first appearance in the big leagues.”

It couldn’t have fallen together any better. Or at a more perfect time.

“I think everyone has their own journey,” said Mercado’s father, David. “… You can't measure your success by other people's success. You just have to keep working hard and doing the right things, and eventually, your time will come.”

That journey began when Michael opted to forgo playing for Stanford University and sign with the Rays, who took him in the second round of the 2017 MLB Draft. He tore the UCL in his right elbow during his first full year of professional ball and had Tommy John surgery in ’19. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic stole a year, and he scuffled around the Minors for another couple before landing with the Phils in a trade on Nov. 6, 2023.

The sky has been the limit ever since, with Mercado going 1-1 with a 1.71 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 14 games (10 starts) with Lehigh Valley prior to his promotion.

"It's been really fun, obviously. Getting a chance to be in the Phillies' organization as a whole has been a real privilege,” Mercado said. “… I've been surrounded by a lot of good catchers. I've gotten great tutelage from [pitching coach] Caleb [Cotham] and [director of pitching development Brian Kaplan] in Spring Training, then going to Triple-A and working with the coaches there -- they've all really helped me."

Speaking of that callup, when Mercado’s father answered the phone on Saturday night, the news from his son was so overwhelming, the best Dad could do to break the tension was to pretend he thought Michael was joking.

“I think that was just me trying to manage the moment, but we had some fun with it,” David said with a smile. “It’s such an emotional thing.”

Michael wasn’t kidding, though, not about this. After seven years, countless bumps in the road -- many of them beyond his control -- and a whole lot of hard work and adjustment along the way, the Phillies had called him up as their newest reliever.

“I was a little speechless,” Michael admitted after he received the news from Triple-A Lehigh Valley manager Anthony Contreras. “I know it's been a long time and I know that I deserve it, but you're never really ready for it.”

While the chance to make his MLB debut on Sunday in front of a packed house at Citizens Bank Park would have been a dream for Mercado, there still would have been something missing. His parents live in San Diego and couldn’t find a flight to Philadelphia in time for the matinee.

As fate would have it though, Michael’s services weren’t needed during the Phillies’ 4-1 win over the D-backs. While that delayed his debut by a day, it also meant his parents were the stands to witness it. David and Shelley, along with Michael’s high school pitching coach, Patrick Edwards, landed in Detroit on Monday just hours ahead of the first pitch.

“You never really know,” Shelley admitted. “I thought his time would come. The emotions are overwhelming. At the same time, I'm still wrapping my head around it.”