The Situation: September is the time that teams like to have a third catcher on the bench and like to give their top prospects on the 40 a taste of major-league action. Francisco Mejia fits both criteria.
The Background: Cleveland signed Francisco Mejia out of the Dominican Republic for $350,000 as part of their 2012 July 2nd class. He came stateside immediately the following year and after two summers bashing short-season pitching, he slotted in second on the Cleveland team list and 84th on the 101. He was sent to full-season-ball as a 19-year-old in 2015 and scuffled in the Midwest League, slashing a mere .243/.324/.345. A return engagement in 2016 went much better and Mejia posted a 50-game hit streak between two A-ball levels. He popped back on the 101, at no. 34 this time, and continued to hit in Double-A in 2017 while reports on his defense behind the plate improved as well. He clocked in at no. 3 on the 2017 Midseason 50 and was arguably the best prospect in the minors at the time of his call up.
Scouting Report: Mejia is a catcher with a potential 7 hit tool and average game power. Let that sink in for a second. He generates plus bat speed and good loft out of a fairly short swing. He tracks offspeed well and is able to do damage if they stay in and around the zone. The swing looks good from both sides and I don’t anticipate much in the way of platoon issues. He’s a better runner than you’d expect given the short, stocky frame and Mejia is heady on the basepaths. It’s not the best offensive profile in the prospect world right now, but when you consider that his position, it’s elite value. And while the Indians have indicated he will get time at third base in Fall ball, the defensive tools are good enough to make him an average-or-better backstop. He has a plus arm and has improved his receiving and handling of pitchers this season. The one knock you can find on his long term future as a catcher is durability. It’s a small frame for the rigors of 120 games behind the plate, and he has yet to catch even 100 in his pro career. It’s not impossible his body is able to handle it, but it hasn’t happened yet. He’s too short to play first base, but has the arm and present foot speed to potentially handle third base or a corner outfield spot, even if it’s just a way to give him an extra day off a week from catching.
Immediate Big League Future: Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez haven’t exactly lit Progressive Field ablaze with their offensive performance, but they are a competent catching duo, and playoff teams are unlikely to change catchers in mid-stream, especially one as pitching-reliant as Cleveland. They’ve all but locked up the AL Central though, so have the luxury to use Mejia once or twice a week to keep their other backstops fresh into October. I wouldn’t read too much into whatever the performance is across sporadic September playing time, but Mejia’s bat is good enough to at least keep him above water despite no Triple-A experience. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Fantasy Impact: We live in an era where scorching hot takes permeate the entire fantasy ethos, but I promise this isn’t another one: Mejia is a viable mixed league starting-caliber catcher right now. It’s the truth. By hitting .297/.346/.490 with 37 extra-base hits (14 home runs) and seven stolen bases in 92 games at Double-A Akron this season, he further cemented his status as not only the top catching prospect in the game, but also as one of the most enticing prospects in fantasy baseball. “The guy just barrels everything,” said BP’s senior prospect writer Jeffrey Paternostro during an appearance on the Flags Fly Forever podcast back in July. “I think he’s a catcher, and I can aggressively, but not ridiculously, put 70 hit and 50 power on him, that’s an elite prospect.”
There is some substantial risk here. Catchers are weird. It takes time for them to develop, especially on the defensive end of the spectrum. There are some lingering questions about Mejia’s long-term durability given his size, but that isn’t something fantasy owners should be concerned about for the moment. The jump from Double-A to the major leagues is extremely difficult. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to believe that Mejia may face a prolonged adjustment period. However, we know Mejia possesses the raw talent to make an immediate impact, and the catcher position in re-draft formats, outside of the truly elite options at the position (Posey, Sanchez, Contreras, Realmuto or Perez), is a dystopian wasteland. Even if manager Terry Francona tries to limit his exposure, Mejia can do enough damage with the handful of starts he is likely to receive per-week to be a mixed-league option. From a dynasty standpoint, it’s hard to find a more coveted asset than Mejia. He’s a ray of light and a beacon of hope at a position enveloped by darkness. –George Bissell