I once asked a coach why I wasn’t getting the attention I felt I deserved. “You have an empty room.” He told me some athletes get a room full of on-lookers handed to them, others don’t. He offered three choices: quit, give people reason to show up, or bust down their walls, mop the floor with the pretty boys and steal their show.
That resonated with me way back then, and I kept thinking about it watching Yermín Mercedes and Andrew Vaughn’s last week of baseball. Mercedes didn’t just bust down a few walls, he demolished the building, built a wonder of the world, took prisoners, and bunkered down to defend it like he does the plate. Ironically, his trick is not trying to do too much.
As a White Sox fan and prospector who enjoys hunting the longshots, Mercedes isn’t new to me. I started believing during the spring of 2020 when the Yermínator cult hysteria amongst a sect of White Sox fans took off. I headed down to Arizona to take a look in person, only to have my first in-person look canceled by rain. COVID canceled everything the next day, a fitting chapter in Mercedes’ story. At the time he was 8-for-22 with 4 HR, 2 BBs to 5 Ks, and an OPS of 1.371, stealing the show of a team loaded with young talent and high hopes. Add global pandemic to the following list of white room walls: Yermín Mercedes’ career.
Mercedes’ .565 start (at this moment) and Player of the Week award isn’t a tale of baseball for me, and definitely not one of fantasy baseball, but we will get into that. It may be my favorite story of will ever. Mercedes doesn’t need another hit to legitimize any of it to me. He has been a legit offensive weapon for a long time, but there were, and are, many hurdles for such a player, but he and his bowling-ball physique busting through like the Kool-Aid Man…that’s the Yermínator.
Obscure independent league, minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, physically reshaping himself to become a legit catcher, pushing through an organization with arguably the deepest set of catchers in the majors over the last two years, a highly-touted third overall pick…one wall after another, after another. Mercedes has a track record of seizing whatever tiny moments he gets. During his first and only spring training game of 2017 with the Orioles, he went 1 for 2 with an RBI single. Spring Training 2018 with the White Sox, he went 1-for-1 with a solo home run. After just three Spring Training ABs in 2019, he went on to hit .317 with 26 HR and a .968 OPS between AA and AAA. The one small chance he didn’t seize was his pinch-hit AB in 2020, an at-bat ruining his 2021 catcher eligibility in most formats. Position again the thorn in the side.
Jack Cecil pointed out the mostly pull-hitting Mercedes has never had a WRC+ under 100, and he has been playing pro ball since 2011. An unfamiliar baseballer might look at the back of his baseball card and see “28” rolling their eyes thinking journeyman, AAAA type on a crazy hot streak. That’s a mistake. There is a legitimate MLB offensive weapon here, as we are seeing. The doubt was, and still is, where does he play with the difference now being he can catch, but will he? Maybe you don’t want him catching every day, but he proved capable with his blocking and big arm this spring. A drastic change from two years ago. Zac Collins has had some iffy moments this short season, as well.
Is 27/28 too “old” for a player to debut or supplant themselves in a big-league roster? Maybe win a Rookie of the Year? Most definitely not. The last three years some of the biggest rookie seasons came from players 26-28 years old; Jared Walsh, Jake Cronenworth, Tony Gonsolin, John Means, Joey Wendle, and Jeff McNeil. Prospect lists rule the dynasty owners’ attention, but they tend to miss a demographic capable of helping you win championships because of a potentially silly age bias. Is mapping out the next five-plus years or whatever, a legitimate task? If anyone does that well, they aren’t here reading this. They’re running around with Biff’s Sports Almanac high on life. Maybe age is an advantage, not something to knock? Yes, Mercedes is 28, and looks anything but lost at the plate cause he’s been a pro for a very long time.
Mercedes isn’t really doing anything new at the plate, except maybe being a tad more defensive than prior. Looks can be deceiving. His 5’11” ,245-lb frame may lend one to think power power power, which he does possess, but watch him with two strikes. Mercedes is liable to choke up and ditch his little leg kick for a toe tap, trying to cover the plate and get wood on it. His one home run actually came on a more defensive approach. We could delve into his Statcast, but it’s too soon. He has hit some balls hard, hit some not as hard, but he’s hardly chased anything outside the zone. He’s been covering the plate impressively, not chasing pitches. Only Ohtani seemed to really fool him so far. A lot of hits have been on good pitches as well. This isn’t really a crushing mistakes scenario.
Obviously, this current rate of production is unsustainable, but his fantasy value may hold all year. Perhaps a moot point in your league on this Wednesday, but he is still unrostered in 50%+ of leagues on some sites. I advise an add if he is still there and you have a reasonable drop. Going into this draft season I had shares in 66% of my dynasty leagues. I did not draft him in 12-teamers, but I did take him with pick #450 in TGFBI, dreaming on catcher eligibility coming and this bat showing up. If the eligibility comes, #1 or #2 fantasy catcher isn’t unreal. There may be a legitimate .280+ hitter with 25 HR. His on-base skills and willingness to put pressure on the opponent could lead to positive things. In the mostly empty room of fantasy catchers, it plays well. If it doesn’t, you may find a lot of production getting wasted on your bench, like has happened with my TGFBI squad, as I have Giancarlo Stanton.
I’m increasingly confident his bat will find its way in the lineup on a consistent basis. The White Sox are relying on a lot of young hitters, and it could get unsteady. After all this hysteria and insanity, the bottom line is still the same; he has to hit. But if he doesn’t the rest of the way, it’s pretty black or white. I don’t foresee a middling, should I/shouldn’t I carry him.
Before we part, I want us to use Yermín Mercedes as a potential foretelling of bat-only prospects. Heriberto Hernandez keeps coming to mind. Hernandez will most likely have to mash his way into the bigs as Mercedes has. It was far from easy and fast.
And by the way? Mercedes kept his hitting streak alive in his last AB Tuesday night.
Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)