The Situation: It’s September. Yohander Mendez got called up. This is a September call up.
The Background: The Rangers inked Mendez for a cool $1.5 million in the 2011 signing period (the same one that brought in Nomar Mazara), getting his feet wet in the DSL in 2012. He made stops in Spokane and Hickory in 2013-15 before rocketing through High Desert, Frisco, and Round Rock in 2016. He’s performed at every stop despite being young for the level, not once registering a full-season ERA over 3.78. The catch there is the term “full-season” as 2016’s 111 innings are nearly double his previous career-high workload (set in 2015), due to multiple injury setbacks. Mendez opened 2015 in the bullpen before transitioning to the rotation, starting only eight of 21 games. He flipped those ratios substantially this season, notching 21 starts in 24 games so far, though it’s expected he’ll pitch out of the bullpen as the Rangers try not to overextend his arm.
The Scouting Report: A southpaw, Mendez honed his changeup early, flashing a plus cambio when I saw him on the backfields in Surprise during Spring Training 2014. He’s sharpened the consistency on the pitch since then, and comfortably projects to have a plus change at its peak thanks to his ability to sell it with his arm speed and generate impressive tumble. Mendez will straddle 90 mph with his fastball, and shows the ability to bump 93 when he reaches back for a little extra. There’s occasional, natural run on the offering. Given the long and lean body, it’s not unreasonable to anticipate a bump in sitting velocity as he continues to add weight to his 6-foot-5 frame, something he’s begun to do this season. While the slider and curve previously mixed together, they’re discrete offerings at this point. A difference-maker for Mendez this season, and a major component to his meteoric rise through the system, is the progression of his slider. It’s gone from an inconsistent offering with only moderate upside to a reliable third pitch, though it still trails the changeup when it comes to the secondaries. There’s not tremendous depth or snap to the offering, but it moves enough to keep hitters off balance and doesn’t need to be a pure out-pitch thanks to Mendez’s changeup. His fourth pitch is the aforementioned curve, which still remains a functional part of his repertoire. It can show itself early at times, but he can drop it in for a strike and use it in sequence.
He pitches from the windup and will rock in place one time before delivering the pitch. While he does well to use his height to put plane on the ball and pitch down in the zone, he’s not afraid to change to challenge hitters up and change eye levels. There is length in his takeaway, including a noticeable stab in the back of late (he’s appeared to be a bit smoother earlier this year). Mendez has shown impressive control throughout his career, and his command is above-average. What shines, though, is his feel for the craft. He can add and subtract velo and sequences impressively, often setting hitters up to bite hard on his tumbling changeup. He will pitch inside, firing the fastball in under the hands, and while it is not a consistent part of his approach, I expect it to become a mainstay as he matures. Mendez displays impressive poise on the mound, likely a significant factor in the Rangers’ willingness to promote him so aggressively. He acts not as if he belongs but as if he owns the mound, and his confidence shows up in his pitches.
Immediate Big League Future: While the Rangers are down a reliever in Jeremy Jeffress, it’s not reasonable to expect Mendez to get significant run down the stretch. While the added weight to his frame makes it more reasonable to stretch him this year, he’s so far beyond his previous career-high in innings that it is likely this is a chance for Mendez to dip his toes in the major-league waters, and get accustomed to a clubhouse that he’ll likely see plenty of next season. —Craig Goldstein
Fantasy Take: The short answer is that there really isn’t much to see here if you’re in a re-draft league. As noted above, Mendez has already far exceeded his seasonal high for innings, and he certainly doesn’t have the cleanest of medical files. It’s unlikely he logs many innings at all, and the ones he does log are likely to come in a relief role. Your FAAB dollars are best spent on streaming options down the stretch.
Now, where things do get interesting is if you play in one a them keeper leagues where only guys who’ve made a big-league debut are eligible to be kept. On the one hand, he’s a 21-year-old with a poor track record of durability and all of 78 innings above A ball under his belt. But they were outstanding innings, and Mendez has emerged in short order as one of the better left-handed pitching prospects in the game this year.
Mendez is not an overpowering pitcher, but his repertoire of secondaries misses plenty of bats and induces its share of weak contact. Batters across three levels hit .184 against the dude this year. Arlington certainly isn’t the best ballpark for a southpaw to wander into, but Mendez has developed into an equal-opportunity destroyer this year, and his strong changeup gives him a more potent weapon than most can deploy to keep right-handers at bay. The specter of a Jonathan Lucroy battery next season, if and when he joins the Rangers’ rotation certainly doesn’t hurt things, either.
It’s highly probable that he opens the season back in the minors next year, and he’ll likely face a significant innings cap as well. So this is probably not your guy if you’re looking for immediate, full-season impact in 2017. But as a longer-term investment Mendez has graduated into that territory where he’s now a pitching prospect worth rostering even in shallower formats. So if his call-up here provides an avenue for you to lay claim to him for the next few years, go forth and drop a double-digit FAAB bid. —Wilson Karaman
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