Cleveland Indians prospect watch: CF Oscar Mercado

Cleveland Indians Oscar Mercado (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Cleveland Indians Oscar Mercado (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

As the outfield leaves a lot of questions for the Cleveland Indians, prospect  Oscar Mercado may have some answers when he gets his big-league shot.

The first installment of our prospect watch column focused on new outfielder Daniel Johnson, whom the Cleveland Indians acquired in the trade that sent Yan Gomes to the Washington Nationals. As an outfielder who can play center and the corners, Johnson seems poised to get a shot at the big-league roster should the projected starters sputter.

Oscar Mercado, who was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in a prospect swap involving the Tribe’s Conner Capel and Jhon Torres, fits into the same category.

Mercado is entering his sixth professional season, but he’s only 24, having been a second-round selection coming out of Tampa’s Gaither High School in 2013. He was the Cardinals’ 10th ranked prospect at the time of the trade, and now finds himself ranked 16th with the Indians to start the 2019 campaign.

He started his career as a shortstop, spending three years at the position before switching to the outfield in 2016. As Mercado flirted with being throw onto the pile of long-forgotten prospects, he salvaged his stock when he moved to center field, for good in 2017, raising his batting average 60 points while leading the Cardinals’ organization in steals (38).

It was crazy to see his offensive game transform after making a defensive switch. He made more consistent contact thanks to better bat speed. He’s considered an above average runner, which makes him a threat on the base paths and in center field.

Considering the time it took for Mercado to find his way, it was interesting to see the Cardinals give up on him since he’s close to reaching the major leagues.

Mercado will likely start the season with the Class AAA Columbus Clippers, which is where he played last season. In total, he’s played 132 games in his minor-league career, so after a couple more months, there really won’t be much from him to do in the minors.

Currently, Mercado’s blocked by Leonys Martin, who figures to be the Tribe’s starting center fielder. He’s a good defender, but will he provide enough offense? For his career, Martin is a .248 hitter (.673 OPS).

Bradley Zimmer‘s also a factor in center, but he was demoted last season because he wasn’t hitting. Then he hurt his shoulder and wasn’t able to work on the fix.

Mercado’s off to a good start in what’s been a small sample size this spring. He’s 3-for-9 with a home run and three RBIs.

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The key for him will be maintaining the offensive production that came after his switch to the outfield. At the Triple-A level, he has a lifetime .278 average, along with a .738 OPS. He’s was thrown some adversity with the trade and watching how he reacts to start a new season will be worth monitoring.