One of the best catchers in all of the minor leagues, Francisco Mejia comes in at number 1 on our Cleveland Indians 2018 top prospect list, a jump of three from my 2017 list.

Francisco Mejia joined the Cleveland Indians as an International free agent back in 2012. Signed out of the Dominican Republic, he was not a top international prospect, partially due to his size (or lack of). He was just 5’8″ when the Indians signed him at the age of 16 and still only listed at 5’10” and 175 pounds as a 22-year-old. The switch-hitting catcher was added to the 40-man roster prior to the 2017 season and spent the bulk of the year at Double-A Akron where he was an Eastern League All-Star and a Future’s Game participant. Mejia also made his big league debut, getting a call-up to the big leagues in September. He finished off 2017 in the Arizona Fall League where he was an All-Star as well.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Francisco Mejia has been a prospect on fans’ radar for a while now. Ever since his 50-game hitting streak fans have dreamed of him in the middle of the lineup and fans are right to dream on this kid. His bat is truly a plus-tool and he has the ability to hit .300 or better at the next level. He isn’t a dead pull hitter and will take a pitch the opposite way or up the middle and make it look easy, though he still can turn on a ball when he needs to and punish it with authority. His bat speed is top notch and he has very quick hands.

He’s a switch-hitter that has shown the ability to hit from both sides of the plate, though he does have a batting average 50 points higher from the right side (versus left-handed pitching) and an OPS 120 points higher. That’s not to say he can’t hit right-handed pitching too as he has a career .280 average versus them with a .768 OPS, including a .306 average and .830 OPS the last two seasons.

Mejia hasn’t shown a ton of power to this point though we did see more of it out of him in 2017. He hit a career-high 14 home runs and posted a career-best .193 ISO while playing his home games at Akron’s Canal Park. Another area he isn’t elite in is his walk rate. He has only one season with a walk rate above seven-percent (8.5% in 2015).

He still has put up good on-base percentages but we saw in 2017 that despite hitting .301, he only had a .346 OBP, which while good is hardly elite. He did manage to post an OBP of .382 in 2016 but that was bolstered by his ridiculously good .342 batting average. While not necessarily a bad thing, Mejia is a guy that will have to hit to have value as it doesn’t’ appear (for now) that he’ll get on base enough any other way…though he’s still young.

Defensive may be the biggest key to Mejia’s future though. A catcher, for now, Mejia has actually looked decent behind the plate the last year or so. He has a plus-plus arm and he threw out 30-percent of would-be base stealers in 2017. He still has work to do in other aspects of the game but he’s worked hard on his English and communication skills and it’s paid off.

However, that hasn’t stopped the Cleveland Indians from looking at other ways to get him at-bats. The Indians sent him to the Arizona Fall League this year and he played third base there. The results were not ideal as he looked very poor there though it was ten games and he had one game of experience at the position. The outfield remains a possibility as well and he has the athleticism to play a corner outfield spot. He does not have good speed by any stretch but he’s no turtle either. He’s closer to Carlos Santana athletically than Victor Martinez for sure.

Where does he go from here?

Francisco Mejia is the prospect in the system that could potentially help the big league club the most in 2017, which makes him one of the most exciting prospects for the coming season. He was recently optioned to Triple-A Columbus where he’ll begin the season, and he likely will see some time in the outfield there. The Indians clearly are excited with his bat and think he can help in 2018. With both Michael Brantley and Brandon Guyer hurt and Lonnie Chisenhall having an up-and-down career offensively, the outfield could be the easiest spot to get Mejia’s bat in the Tribe’s lineup.

The question with Mejia is how much will he hit at the big league level? Can he be that .300-plus hitter he looks capable of? Can he be a Victor Martinez type bat that would fit at any position? Or was 2016 more an outlier than and his bat will simply be good and almost have to be behind the plate to be effective?

My guess is the answer lies somewhere in the middle. I don’t view Mejia quite as high as most of my counterparts or as high as the experts who all have him as a top 20 prospect in all of baseball, if not top five. However, I do believe Mejia has the bat potential to be a difference maker in the big leagues. My issue also isn’t that he can’t stay behind the plate but if getting him 155-plus games in the outfield is better than 120-130 games behind the plate? Are the extra 100 or so plate appearances worth giving up some positional value?

For me, the answer is yes, at least for 2018. Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez may not be the sexiest catcher tandem but their defense is top notch and the bats play well enough. Let Mejia work on his bat a bit more in Triple-A and get some time in the outfield while still crafting his game behind the plate. I fully expect to see Mejia in the big leagues and possibly before the All-Star break. One thing seems clear, the Cleveland Indians will let Mejia hit his way onto the big league roster. Only Mejia can hold himself back at this point.

Photo courtesy of Joel Dinda, via Flickr.