Chopcast: Braves prospects potentially blocked at MLB level
MAR 03, 2014 4:36p ET
Ernesto Mejia, the towering 6-foot-5 power hitter in the Braves farm system, is the definition of the blocked prospect. He's climbed his way up the minor league ladder only to find the next rung -- the one meant to carry him up to the majors full-time -- is occupied. And the person there doesn't appear to be going anywhere for quite some time.
The Venezuelan first baseman falls somewhere on the Braves' organization depth chart behind Freddie Freeman, of course, the newly-minted "face of the franchise" after signing an eight-year, $135 million contract extension this past offseason. Mejia, 28, does not play any other positions. He plays Freddie Freeman's position. And therein lies the problem. He's blocked, barring injury, for the next eight seasons in the Atlanta organization.
It's not as if Mejia hasn't shown promise, either. If minor league stats are indicative of potential major league success (they can be labeled a capable predictor, according to research dating back decades thanks to Bill James), then Mejia's bat projects. Here are his numbers from his past three seasons in the Braves organization (via FranGraphs):
2011 (AA): 573 plate appearances, .297/.375/.531, 26 home runs, 141 weighted runs created
2012 (AAA): 559 plate appearances, .296/.347/.502, 24 home runs, 135 weighted runs created
2013 (AAA): 551 plate appearances, .249/.323/.497, 28 home runs, 125 weighted runs created
There's a little regression to be found there, but power is not a cheap commodity. He's a minor league standout entering his third straight season at Triple-A Gwinnett. Having a power bat stashed 45 minutes northeast as an insurance policy is not the worst thing for the franchise, but as long as Freeman stays healthy there's little reason to expect Mejia to make the 25-man roster any time soon.
And though he's the most obvious case -- what with his age, minor league track record and the recent extending of Freeman's deal -- there are others in the farm system due for an MLB look soon enough. Tommy La Stella at second base comes to mind. Dan Uggla has two years left on his deal, but La Stella is already 25 (and off to a hot start this spring). Other not-so-pressing potential cases can be found scrolling through the team's top prospects lists: catcher Christian Bethancourt, shortstop Jose Peraza and any of the team's top pitching prospects like Lucas Sims, J.R. Graham or Jason Hursh. (Counterpoint: Can you ever have enough pitching?)
The point here being that the Braves have done well building through the farm and locking up those they believe should be cornerstones, but what about those still coming up the line? What is to become of Mejia and La Stella over the next couple of seasons? It's somewhat of a comforting problem to have for Frank Wren & Co., but it makes for an interesting discussion as to these prospects' futures: