Friday was a busy day for the Cleveland Indians, as four separate roster moves were made throughout the day in advance of the deadline for adding players to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft in December.
Earlier in the day, the team claimed left-handed pitchers Tim Cooney and Edwin Escobar off of waivers and outrighted catcher Chris Gimenez from the 40-man roster. With one final roster spot remaining, the Indians selected the contract of High-A catcher Francisco Mejia, protecting him from exposure to the Rule 5 draft.
Mejia had a year that he will never forget in a significant bounce back season for the 21-year-old switch-hitter out of the Dominican Republic. Signed by the Indians at the beginning of July in 2012, he spent a season in Arizona playing rookie ball before a year at short-season Mahoning Valley. In his first real test at the Single-A level with Lake County in 2015, he struggled to a .243 average with a .324 on-base percentage, hitting 13 doubles, nine homers, and driving in 53 runs in 109 games. More notably, his work behind the plate suffered, as he allowed 61 stolen bases in 93 chances (34.4% caught stealing rate) and was charged with 14 errors and 16 passed balls in 94 games.
The mixed results led to a return to Lake County to start the 2016 season, but he performed at a high level throughout the year.
Mejia appeared in 60 games for the Captains, putting together a .347/.384/.531 slash with 17 doubles, three triples, seven homers, and 51 RBI. He was named a Midwest League Player of the Week in early June and took home the league’s Player of the Month award for the entire month. He was named the starting catcher for the Midwest League’s Eastern Division All-Stars during their annual midsummer classic.
While calling games in Eastlake, he threw out 20 of 46 attempted base stealers (43.5%) and was charged with four errors (.991) and three passed balls in 52 games (458 1/3 innings).
The backstop was promoted to High-A Lynchburg on June 27 while in the middle of an already impressive hitting streak at the plate. He appeared in the All-Star Futures Game during the Major League Baseball All-Star weekend events in early July and returned to the Hillcats roster to continue to push his hitting streak along, one that would ultimately garner national attention.
Mejia’s value became known at the end of July, when he was expected to be one of four players dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for their starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy, but the Brewers’ All-Star backstop vetoed the move.
His streak would reach 50 consecutive games before coming to an end as the fourth-longest hitting streak in minor league baseball history. He appeared in 42 games in total with Lynchburg, hitting .333 with a .380 OBP and .488 slugging percentage with 12 doubles, a triple, four home runs, and 29 RBI while scoring 22 runs.
Behind the plate, he threw out 10 of 23 would-be base stealers (43.5%) and was charged with five errors (.984) and three passed balls in 35 games.
For the season combined, Mejia slashed .342/.382/.514 with 29 doubles, four triples, eleven homers, and 80 RBI in 102 games.
Following the season, Mejia was named a MiLB.com Organizational All-Star, a Baseball America Minor League All-Star, and a Post-Season All-Star in the Carolina League. His hitting streak earned him additional accolades when he received the 2016 MiLBY for Best Individual Performance. He was also selected by Baseball America as the Indians’ top prospect heading in to the 2017 season.
Mejia is not a player to expect to see in Cleveland contributing to the Indians club in 2017, but he is a name to keep on the radar for a 2018 contribution if he can spend some significant time at the Double-A level at some point during the coming year. With current starting catcher Yan Gomes locked up through at least 2019 (with team options in 2020 and 2021) and backup Roberto Perez not eligible for free agency until after the 2020 season, Mejia becomes a nice security blanket for the Tribe at a position with known injury risks.
Photo: Ken Inness/MiLB.com