Getting the Dish on Francisco Mejia

Francisco Mejia was a shortstop growing up in Bani of the Dominican Republic. That’s not an uncommon position for someone with a 5’10”, 175 lb. build.

Instead, in the last few months before the International Signing Period at his coaches suggestion, Mejia shifted to catcher. He has been learning to handle the position ever since.

“I love catching, but it’s a hard position to play,” said Mejia. “My first year, I was a bit scared of catching. I played mostly designated hitter.”

Having been a catcher for less than a year when he first reported to the Indians system, he has slowly increased his work behind the plate, and at just 20 years old looks to become established as a quality backstop for years to come.

In 2013 he caught 194 innings for the Arizona League team in the Indians system, hitting a triple slash line of .305/.348/.524. The next season with rookie level Mahoning Valley in the New York-Penn League he caught 442 innings with a .282/.339/.407 triple slash line and earned a trip to the league’s midseason All-Star game. Having more than doubled his time behind the plate, he nearly doubled his innings caught again in 2015 with 827 2/3 innings for the Lake County Captains of the Low-A Midwest League.

This year, 2016, marks his second appearance in a league’s midseason classic, as he was named to the Midwest League All-Star team while playing in his second season with the Captains.

“It was my second All-Star game. I also went to the All-Star game when I was with Mahoning Valley. You always want to be the starting catcher, the star, so you have to play good,” said Mejia about doing the work necessary to get named to an All-Star squad.

He got the start in the game at Cedar Rapids and earned his way there by posting a .313 batting average with a single home run and 33 RBI in his first 44 games of the season.

Eventually this level of performance earned him a promotion to High-A Lynchburg, where he has continued to hit, continuing a 44-game hitting streak that began while he was still receiving pitches with the Lake County club.

Switch-hitting was something he picked up at 12 years old, though he is a natural right-handed hitter.

“I take the same approach right or left-handed,” says Mejia. “I’m looking to go the other way and I just want to hit the ball hard.”

Now working with Hillcats hitting coach Larry Day he appreciates all the work that coach Day puts in to get his hitters prepared to be successful when they come up to the plate.

“He (Day) talks to us about other pitchers and what they throw,” shared Mejia. “He has all the numbers on what they throw and that helps.”

This is particularly true in the Carolina League, where there are only eight total teams, so having good information on your opponent can make a significant impact for an individual player and his ability to affect the game and perform well.

As he goes forward he continues to work on mastering the nuances of catching and working to keep himself healthy and energized for the long grind of a full-season behind the dish.

“Last year I got in trouble because my energy was down. So now I go to the gym, the training room, drink a lot of water and eat good,” said Mejia. “I’ve changed my training over the course of the season to keep up my strength.”

He has also been working hard on mastering English, not able to speak it at all when he first started playing in the minors. It has helped that Lynchburg has two experienced catchers in Alex Monsalve and Sicnarf Loopstok, both who are decent, if not completely fluent, English speakers.

“It’s helping me because I have to take English class,” said Mejia. “They are teaching me a lot. Loopy, he’s played here before so he knows the routine and is teaching me. Plus, I have to talk to the pitchers and talk with the pitching coach.”

As a catcher Mejia must continually use his growing language skills every day. Not only does he put them on display as he works with pitchers, but he also got to show off as one of the Cleveland organization’s participants in the annual Futures Game held the Sunday afternoon before the Major League All-Star game.

“Playing for the World team, we said to each other, ‘We need to win this game.’ A lot of people were looking at us to do that,” said Mejia about his trip to San Diego in July. “I got to see a lot of friends that I had not seen in a long time.”

Playing the game in San Diego’s Petco Park only strengthened Mejia’s desire to excel and play the rest of his career at the Major League level.

“It was a nice feeling, a comfortable feeling,” said Mejia about playing in the Futures Game and a Major League ballpark. “I want to play there forever, in the Big Leagues.”

The stories about Mejia as a key piece in the Indians’ discussion of a trade with the Brewers for Jonathan Lucroy have not affected his performance on the field, and Mejia’s stock continues to rise. At the High-A level he has a .337/.352/.482 triple slash line to go with 19 RBI and seven extra base hits.

The future looks bright for Francisco Mejia and his career behind the plate.

Photo: Ken Inness/MILB.com

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

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