New Padres prospect Francisco Mejia made his way onto the prospect scene back in 2016, while in the Indians’ system. That year, Mejia had an incredible 50-game hitting streak — the longest hitting streak in the minor leagues in 62 years, as he split time between Low-A Lake County and High-A Lynchburg. The backstop finished 2016 with an illustrious .342/.382/.514 slash line between the two stops.
After a solid campaign last season in Double-A, the backstop advanced to Triple-A this spring and got off to a slow start. However, since May 1st, Mejia is hitting .318/.369/.486, with just a 15% strikeout rate.
The catcher was acquired Thursday morning from the Cleveland Indians, in exchange for All-Star closer Brad Hand and reliever Adam Cimber, who has been a revelation out of the San Diego bullpen. It was an unusual deal, as the Padres traded two players off of the big league roster in exchange for a player who is currently in the minor leagues. The Padres felt that giving up both players was necessary, in order to acquire a premium young talent like Mejia.
Why did the Padres target Mejia?
On the surface, the Mejia acquisition does not fit onto the big league roster. He made his major league debut last year, appearing in 11 games for the Indians. He played in one game for Cleveland this year. San Diego currently has two catchers on the 25-man roster — starter Austin Hedges — who is lauded for his defensive acumen but has yet to hit consistently and veteran A.J. Ellis, who is praised for professionalism and leadership. Ellis, who has been solid offensively in limited action, could appeal to a contender looking for a veteran to play a couple of times a week. For now, Mejia will play every day in El Paso.
“[Mejia] will go to El Paso,” said Padres general manager A.J. Preller on a conference call with the media.
“We really like the bat and the potential that we see behind the plate. He can also play third and some outfield. Our pro scouts, led by Pete DeYoung, have seen him a lot in the past few years and for right now the focus will be on catching.”
Mejia’s receiving skills are said to be a work in progress but MLB Pipeline placed a 70-grade on his arm but has graded him as a 45 on defense — which is slightly below-average. For now, MLB Pipeline slots him in as the #3 player in the stacked San Diego system.
Mejia has played some outfield recently and played third base in the Arizona Fall League last year, but he wasn’t excited about the move and struggled with mechanics in the audition. Outside of that brief stint, he has only seen action at the hot corner in one regular-season game in 2017.
“Mejia has a cannon arm but can streamline his release and improve his accuracy,” said Jim Callis, a senior writer for MLB Pipeline.
“His receiving and framing need more work, but he may not be more than adequate. I got a brief look at him at third base in the Arizona Fall League and it didn’t look good. I think left field is the more realistic Plan B.”
“Really, [acquiring Mejia] is a value proposition,“ said Preller. We like talented players that can play in the middle of the field and it’s hard to find value at this level. We sat down and discussed the move as a group and we thought this was the best value.”
What Is Mejia’s Ceiling?
San Diego acquired a 22-year-old, switch-hitting catcher with a potentially elite hit tool. The Padres, outside of Luis Urias, Fernando Tatis Jr., and perhaps Josh Naylor, don’t have any top-ten prospects above Double-A that project as everyday position players in San Diego. Mejia instantly makes a deep and talented farm system even better.
“Anyone that puts together a 50-game hitting streak can hit. He has gap-to-gap power and is a potential middle-of-the-order bat,” said Preller.
“If Mejia moved off of catcher and played a less demanding position that would not take a toll on his bat and also would allow him to play more as well, I could see him hitting .300 with 20 or more homers, “ said Callis.
“I think the hit stands out more than the power, but it’s good power. If he’s a catcher, I’d revise that to .280 with 16-plus homers.”
How does the trade affect the organization?
The first thought by many Padres’ fans was that Mejia will eventually supplant Austin Hedges as the everyday catcher. For now, that will not be the case but there could potentially be room for both players on the roster.
“We think a ton of Hedgy [Austin Hedges] and in the past few weeks we have seen flashes of all the ability that he potentially has,” said Preller.
“In this day and age, I don’t think you are going to have many guys catching 130 to 140 games, so you need to have more than just one guy.”
With moving Adam Cimber and Brad Hand, the Padres currently have an open spot on the 40-man roster. The team will likely promote two pitchers from Triple-A to fill the roster spots that have been vacated. Beyond that, Mejia’s acquisition will have a ripple effect throughout the organization.
Currently, the Friars have five catchers on the 40-man roster: Mejia, Hedges, Ellis, plus former Rule 5 pick Luis Torrens, who has been satisfactory offensively in Lake Elsinore and Raffy Lopez, who saw extensive time with the big league club when Hedges was on the disabled list. Lopez is currently on the big league roster but seems like a candidate to be sent down, since the big league club is currently carrying three catchers.
The team also has Austin Allen in Double-A and he is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this winter. Allen has had a monster year for San Antonio and would likely be a top-ten prospect in many other organizations. Ellis is eligible for free agency this year but it may be difficult for the Padres to carry five catchers (assuming they add Allen to the 40-man roster) going into a winter when many other prospects need to be protected.
It could mean that Allen goes unprotected or the Padres could deal one of the other catchers on the roster. As of now, the Padres have a pretty deep group of backstops throughout the organization, that includes Luis Campusano and Blake Hunt in the lower levels.
The Padres will have Mejia exclusively catch over the next few weeks, with a possible promotion to San Diego in September. After a couple of weeks, the team has discussed moving him around to different positions to get his bat and perhaps Hedges’ glove in the lineup on a consistent basis.
While Hand and Cimber were excellent for the Padres, San Diego added a premium talent that has a chance to have a very good career in San Diego.