Ernesto Mejia has hit .296 and .297 the last two years, agonizingly close to the elusive .300 average he said is his goal. If he keeps hitting home runs at his current pace, however, he'll probably be pretty satisfied, .300 or not.
The Braves farmhand homered for the fourth straight game Saturday, launching a three-run blast in the seventh inning of Triple-A Gwinnett's 7-6 road loss to the Norfolk Tides.
The 27-year-old first baseman also went deep in back-to-back contests against Durham and again on Friday night at Charlotte. Add in the two-homer game he had on April 6 and Mejia leads the Minor Leagues with six round-trippers in nine games.
The outburst has left him with a lofty .914 slugging percentage. And while no one expects him to keep the statistic that high, power has become a hallmark of Mejia's game since he rejoined the Atlanta organization following the 2010 season.
In 2011 with Double-A Mississippi, he hit .297/.375/.531 with 26 homers, 37 doubles and a Southern League-leading 99 RBIs. He produced similar numbers last year with Gwinnett, batting .296/.347/.502 with 24 homers, 32 doubles and an International League-best 92 RBIs.
This season, with the .914 slugging mark and .343 batting average, is uncharted territory for the Venezuela native.
"This is pretty much the best start of my career," he admitted. "I'm feeling good, just trying to put the ball in play, not do too much, just hit the ball hard. Things are going well."
Mejia came up through the Braves system after the team signed him as an international free agent in July 2002 and brought him the United States in 2005. He spent the 2010 campaign with the Royals, splitting it between Class A Advanced Wilmington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
The Braves brought him back and he enjoyed the breakout year in 2011 that established a level he's consistently maintained. He played with Zulia in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason and compiled a .298/.340/.551 line, leading the circuit with 16 homers and 48 RBIs in 61 games.
Mejia, who recently was pegged by MiLB.com as an under-the-radar fantasy player to watch in the Brandon Moss mold, has never had a crack at the big leagues. It's a goal that, like his quest for .300, has been just out of reach.
"The Braves have a pretty good team in the bigs right now, probably don't need me too much. But if someday they need me, of course I would like to get called up. I hope I get that opportunity," he said. "I've been doing really good these past three years. My goal is to have more walks, try not to strike out too much and hit for average. I've been trying to hit .300 and I end up close every year.
"I'm just trying to get better every day and show this team, show everybody, that I'm ready for the bigs."
On Saturday, Gwinnett took a 6-4 lead into the eighth inning before Norfolk rallied. Leadoff man Jason Pridie fell a triple short of the cycle and drove in two runs for the Tides, while L.J. Hoes slugged a two-run homer in the fifth.