This article was originally published at the Redbird Daily by Colin Garner, and is now proud to call the Cards Conclave home. Throughout July, we’ll be re-running all 30 Prospect articles as we lead up to Colin’s Mid-Season Prospect Update later in the month.
In Collaboration with Kyle Reis and Birds On The Black, Colin Garner presents you with The Cardinals Top 30 Prospects! Today, we have #13, Oscar Mercado.
13. Oscar Mercado – CF
2nd Round – 2013 Draft
Entering age-23 season
2017 wRC+: 114
What I Like
First and foremost, I got to see Mercado play a bunch last year. He spent the entire season in Springfield, where he had by far the best statistical season of his minor league career. I didn’t know much about Mercado heading into last season, except Springfield manager Johnny Rodriguez saying that Mercado “needed innings in center” and encouraged writers not to overlook Mercado in favor of, say, Jose Adolis Garcia (JAG).
As it turned out, Rodriguez’s prediction was dead-on. While the offensive numbers speak for themselves, it’s truly remarkable how quickly Mercado took to centerfield. Remember, prior to 2017, Mercado had been a shortstop for the entirerty of his career. Under Rodriguez, Mercado adapted to centerfield so quickly, Magneuris Sierra played mostly right field when he was assigned to Double-A in June. JAG also played the corners because Merdado’s defense was so good, which stands out even more now that the Cardinals have put JAG in center during Spring Training.
Part of the reason the transition to the outfield went so smoothly is because Mercado is legitimately one of the best athletes in the system. He stole 38 bags last year, but was caught 19 times. That’s a success rate of 66.7%, and runners need to be successful in at least 75% of attempts for the risk to be worth it. I love the raw ability, but a little refinement as far as leads, jumps, and when to steal could make him a lethal threat on the bases.
At the plate, Mercado was as well-rounded a hitter as humanly possible. He hit .322/.382/.472 in the first half, which was also his first turn at Double-A. All while learning a new position (and had never hit above .254 in a season). He also mixed in 7 dingers and 25 of his 38 stolen bases in the first half. If Flaherty’s ascendence early in 2017 was the most meteoric, Mercado’s was the most surprising.
What I Don’t Like
Unfortunately, Mercado really dropped off in the second half. Part of it was due to injury. On June 30th he was placed on the seven day disabed list with a strained shoulder. He returned on July 11th, but I think he was rushed back. The month of July was BY FAR his worst: he hit just .185 and only drew three walks.
By late July, Mercado was a hitter experiementing with his approach. In late July/early August, it was evident that Mercado was trying to lift balls. He hit four of his 13 homers between July 30 and August 6. Obviously, Mercado has the physical ability to hit home runs — he hit 7 in the first half. I just don’t think that’s the strongest part of his game, so I’d rather him be a doubles guy who plays great defense and is a plus baserunner. He quietly returned to his line-drive hitting ways, and finished the season relatively strong.
Since he’s a plus baserunner, it’s very important he raise is BB%. Last year, he walked in just 6.1% of his plate appearances. For someone who has, without a doubt, the best base-stealing ability in the system, he needs to find ways on base besides a hit. The good news is, that’s excactly what he did in the Arizona Fall League, where he drew 14 walks in 102 plate appearances for a BB% of 13.7.
I’m very intrigued by Mercado. His speed is the closest the organization has to what Magneuris Sierra possessed, but his hit tool is far more developed. You can see that just by watching a few at-bats. At the same time, he went from potential bust as a shortstop to number 13 on our list, just because his first half was so strong. You have to question whether it’s sustainable. If I had to guess, I’d say his first half is more indicative of the player he is, and I’m attributing most of his second half regression ot injury.
Cardinals fans are getting a glimpse of just how well-rounded Mercado is. In his Spring Training debut, he made a great catch in right center, got two hits (including an RBI), and stole a base. That’s the type of player I believe Mercado is, and I’m optimistic he’ll return to his pre-shoulder injury ways in 2018.
Thanks for reading! As always thanks to Baseball Reference and Fangraphs for their statistics databases. Be sure to check out Kyle’s post tomorrow at Birds On The Black, and listen to Prospect To Be Named Later for even more minor league content.