Toolshed: Mejia hitting where he left off

Indians No. 2 prospect looking like his 2016 self early with Akron

Batting .340 in his first 14 Double-A games, Francisco Mejia is a career .295 hitter over five seasons in the Minors. (Mark Olson/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | April 26, 2017 10:00 AM ET

Quick, what's the first thing people know about Francisco Mejia? Last year's 50-game hitting streak, of course.

What's the first thing they should know about Mejia's start to 2017? He jumped out of the gate with a 13-game string.

New season, new level, new league, new team, new roster status -- none of that has mattered.

"He's incredibly consistent," said Double-A Akron skipper Mark Budzinski, who also managed Mejia at Class A Advanced Lynchburg during the second half of 2016. "He has his pregame routine, his work in the cage and he sticks to it. He gets ready to hit on time and has a knack for getting the barrel. That comes from having great hands. Couple that with some hard-hit balls that find holes, and it's really been a fantastic start for him."

The numbers back up Budzinski's assertions. Even after going 0-for-4 on Tuesday to break up his season-opening hit parade, Mejia's 13-game streak is the longest by any Double-A hitter in the season's first month. The Indians' No. 2 prospect has gone 18-for-53 (.340) through the first three weeks of the season, and that hasn't been a result of soft contact. Eight of his 18 hits have gone for extra bases, and his seven doubles are second most in the Eastern League.

In fact, Mejia's numbers from his first 14 games are well in line with the stats he put up over 42 contests in the Carolina League last season.

Season Team PA AVG OBP SLG OPS BABIP BB% K%
2016 Lynchburg 184 .333 .380 .488 .869 .366 7.1 13.0
2017 Akron 60 .340 .383 .509 .893 .375 6.7 11.7  

"It's very similar," Budzinski said. "He's had a lot of success because he gets himself ready for a fastball every at-bat, but then can react well to breaking stuff away when he needs to. He's aggressive in the zone, and as long as he's not chasing pitches, he'll hit fine."

The jump from Class A Advanced to Double-A is supposed to be the most difficult in the Minors for young players like the 21-year-old catcher, playing just two steps away from the Majors while facing some arms that have experience at the game's highest level. The switch-hitting Mejia faced such a pitcher in Bowie left-hander Jed Bradley, who made six appearances for the Braves last season, back on Opening Day. He doubled on the first pitch he saw.

"He's handled it well so far," Budzinski said of the transition. "He really can hit at any level. That's not a worry for him, but we'll still pay attention to it. Really what we're paying the most attention to is his defense because at this level, it's more about what he learns from pitchers, how he uses that in his game calling and how he grows on that. That's actually pretty scary because once all that becomes clear, he's going to be even better than the player he already is."

Video: Mejia hits game-tying double for 'Ducks

Yet there is one way Mejia may already be elite defensively, and that's controlling the running game. The Dominican Republic native caught his first five attempted basestealers this season; it took until April 21 -- a little more than two weeks into the season -- before an opponent successfully swiped a bag. (On April 14, he even picked off three Altoona runners at first base.) Harrisburg's Raudy Read is the only Eastern League catcher who has more caught-stealings than Mejia's five, and his six have come in nine more attempts (17 vs. 8). It's no wonder that for all the offensive gifts he's shown the last two seasons, Mejia received his highest grade for his arm with a 70 on the 20-80 scale.

Those same quick hands that Mejia uses to connect at the plate allow him to be dangerous behind it as well.

"Obviously, they can affect both sides," said Budzinski. "He's got to get rid of the ball quickly, and a lot of that has to do with positioning and footwork and things he's still working on. But when you're trying to hit 95 mph-plus, those hands are a necessity. From a throwing standpoint, that's just God's gift. There's work you can put in expanding the strike zone and preparing pitchers and all that, but it all starts with the fact that he's been gifted with one heck of an arm."

The Eastern League has already taken notice. Altoona is the only team Akron has faced in two separate series this season, and after the Curve went 0-for-1 in attempted thefts and got caught three times off first against Mejia, Budzinski said it was noticeable how much closer to the bag they played the second time around on April 21-22.

But as loud as his bat and arm have been, there remain some holes in Mejia's game. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, he's more of a gap hitter than a powerful one and has yet to go deep in Double-A. Also, he's still average when it comes to some other aspects of catching, namely framing and game calling. Using Baseball Prospectus' framing stats, he's been worth -0.7 Framing Runs in his first month with the RubberDucks, ranking 32nd among the 42 Double-A catchers with at least 500 chances behind the plate. That could be small-sample tricks, but it's in line with Budzinski's comments about Mejia's need to grow.

Still, MLB.com's No. 37 overall prospect was an easy addition to the 40-man roster last November when he would've been eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Mejia's first trip to Major League Spring Training as a roster member afforded him an opportunity to work under the wing of Indians first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr., a catcher in the big leagues for 20 seasons.

"He and Sandy had a great working relationship," Budzinski said. "They were working on everything -- blocking, receiving, transition work. He's continued to focus on all that with [Akron bench coach] Omar Santos here. He's still working on game calling and hitter recall. But the important thing is we see him as a big league catcher. He knows that because he's been able to see it."

Mejia is one of only three Indians catchers on the 40-man roster, behind Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez, but the pair have done little to show they aren't more than seat-warmers for Mejia's eventual ascent. Last season, as the Indians were winning the AL Central and the pennant, Indians catchers collectively ranked last in Wins Above Replacement at -0.7, according to FanGraphs. Though it's still early, they're back at No. 30 with a -0.2 WAR to begin this season.

The sting of last year's World Series Game 7 may still hurt in Cleveland, and it's going to take every ounce of the organization's best talent to win its first title since 1949. With Mejia's bat and defense rounding into form, don't be surprised if the 21-year-old sees time in the Majors by season's end.

"We talked about that with all our players in our first meeting here this year," Budzinski said. "When you're here, you're only one phone call away, so those little things in the game become all the more vital. One win or one loss can be the difference -- we see it with Game 163 now -- and it's your ability to affect those little things that'll determine if you can help. That's what we want all our guys to pay attention to at this level."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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