Only 18 years old, Indians top catching prospect possesses elite arm
Very few players come along in the minor leagues that are viewed as special in one particular skill. Lots of players are above average or considered "plus" with a certain skill, but few have what is considered an elite bat or elite arm.
The Indians happen to have a couple of players in their system with elite skills or intangibles, but one player who has really come onto the scene and really stands out is catcher Francisco Mejia.
Mejia, 18, is a highly regarded catching prospect in the organization that is currently playing at short season Single-A Mahoning Valley. He spent the first few months of the season in Arizona out in extended spring training refining his game and working on his routines and is getting his first real experience in affiliate ball playing in front of fans, having expectations and enduring the day to day grind of the game with travel and such.
"I feel great to be here with all of my teammates," Mejia said through team trainer and translator Juan Acevedo. "It is exciting to move up step by step and I am going to try and do my job here the best I can."
Even though Mejia is playing against college level players and players who are mostly three to five years older than him, he is holding his own in the early going at Mahoning Valley. In 16 games, he is hitting a solid .259 with no homers, 10 RBI and .659 OPS, and also has a solid 8-12 walk to strikeout ratio to boot.
Mejia has some good raw power for his size and the expectation is as he matures and finds comfort at the level he is playing at that it will show more consistently. He is a switch hitter with a lot of upside with the bat because of that power and his approach to use the entire field.
"He has good pop at the plate and is a little like Jose Ramirez as a little bit of a wild swinger at the plate," Mahoning Valley manager Ted Kubiak said of Mejia. "But he is real different this year. He has learned a little bit this year and has become more aggressive."
But while the bat is impressive, it is his catch-and-throw skills that are truly impressive and are comparable to some of the best throwing catchers of all time. From his unbelievable lightning quick release to his laser-like precision with his throws and cannon-like arm strength, there is a lot to like about him as a catcher.
"Frankie is very interesting behind the plate," Kubiak said. "He throws better than anybody I have ever seen or will ever see. Any place, be it the minors or big leagues. When you talk about a gun, he has an absolute cannon and he likes to throw and he is pretty damn good at it."
The 72-year old Kubiak has been around the game for over 50 years, played 10 years in the big leagues and was on a World Series championship team, so that is high praise coming from him. Mejia takes the praise in stride and is just continuing to work to get better with his throwing.
"My ability has been ascending because I have been working hard on my necessities," Mejia said. "As soon as I came to the organization I have been listening to all of the coaches and trying to improve myself. I feel great. With the way I have been doing things I feel comfortable now."
What is scary is Mejia has only touched the surface with how good he can be as a catcher. He was signed as a shortstop two years ago this July for $350,000 out of the Dominican Republic, and the Indians knew right away how special a player he was. Latin American Scouting Director Roman Pena saw him one time for a tryout at the Indians academy in the Dominican Republic and wasted no time bringing him on board.
"I was a shortstop and as soon as I went to the academy for a tryout I only had one as Roman Pena automatically signed me and sent me to Cleveland for the major-league team to look at me and then I was sent to Arizona," Mejia said. "I have been working hard and have made it here now."
With any young player there always exists the likely possibility that they don’t pan out. Players get injured, their bodies change, and sometimes they just hit a wall in their development. Any of those things could happen to Mejia at some point in the next few years which would prevent him from reaching the major leagues, but in the meantime, he is working to improve and become a more consistent hitter, as well as being the best catcher he can be.
"I love hitting," Mejia said. "I feel I can hit but I want to be more consistent behind the plate and improve as much as I can there. My main goal is to try to become a leader behind the plate. I want to improve my game calling and everything else behind the plate. This year I want to focus on my conditioning and trying to improve on my abilities."
As they used to say in the days of the "Wild West," "have gun — will travel." Well, with the gun attached to Mejia’s right side, he has a chance to travel far and maybe one day be the next great defensive catcher in the big leagues.