Can Francisco Mejia break out in 2021 and show his abilities consistently at the major league level?
After the Padres traded closer Brad Hand for prospect Francisco Mejia in 2018, San Diego thought they had their catcher of the future. That belief has yet to be the case as Mejia has struggled since putting a Padres uniform on.
In 2016, the young Dominican born became one of the best young minor leaguers in baseball for the Cleveland Indians farm system, when he smashed a hit in 50-straight games. That streak is currently the 4th longest in minor league baseball history.
Two years later, the Indians ranked Mejia as their No. 1 prospect before trading him to San Diego halfway through the season. The switch-hitter entered the top farm system in baseball with players like Fernando Tatis Jr., McKenzie Gore, and Luis Patiño surrounding him.
Mejia showed flashes of stardom in his rookie season when he had a two-homer game (in just his second game as a Padre) against the Cincinnati Reds on Sept. 6, 2018.
Don’t miss Francisco Mejía’s first career home run 👀 pic.twitter.com/geZ1OYzyVV
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) September 6, 2018
He would follow that up with a grand slam against the Texas Rangers just a few days later.
At that time, the Padres were dealing with serious issues at the catching position. With Austin Hedges being the primary catcher, San Diego basically had a second hole in the lineup, with the pitcher following.
2019 was much of the same as Hedges and Mejia were not getting the job done offensively. Mejia finished the season with these numbers: .265/.316/.438, 60 hits, eight home runs, 22 RBI, and 56 strikeouts. (Not bad numbers for a backup catcher).
His defense didn’t impress either. That is his real issue. He allowed 25 stolen bases, which led to a 17% caught-stealing percentage. There were also plenty of times where it seemed like he and the pitcher were not in sync. Mejia has yet to show signs of improvement at the catcher position but has shown that he can be flexible and play left field if needed, where he does have three career starts.
Much of that low performance from the catching position caused general manager A.J. Preller to make a splash before the trade deadline in 2020. Mejia happened to be the only catcher on the 40 man roster to stay put, as both Hedges (Indians) and Luis Torrens (Seattle Mariners) were traded away. Preller added two more catchers as he traded for slugger Austin Nola and veteran Jason Castro to strengthen the lineup.
On August 17, Mejia landed on the 10-day injured list with a thumb contusion and did not see any action for the rest of the season due to the acquisitions of Nola and Castro.
The start of the 2021 season is still months away, but the Padres have yet to solve their catching problem. Mejia is slated to be the backup catcher behind Nola if the season were to start today. Castro is currently a free agent.
The Padres’ current No. 4 prospect Luis Campusano is one of the top prospect catchers in baseball, and he proved it when he smashed a home run in his first-ever game as Padre last season. But with the uncertainty of his availability for the start of the season (felony marijuana possession), Mejia will have plenty of time to earn his role if the Padres decide to keep him.
The switcher hitter could be expendable if the Padres decide to sign or trade for another catcher. Cardinals legend Yadi Molina has been brought up in conversations about a possible sign, which would then put Mejia’s name on the trade block if it isn’t already.
Mejia’s name has also been mentioned in trade rumors for starting pitcher Blake Snell from the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have made it clear they are looking for a catcher, and the former CY Young Award winner could fit really well among the top of the Padres’ rotation.
If the Padres decide to keep Mejia, this could potentially lead to a breakout season for the 25-year-old. He has a few years as a pro under his belt, and so that could lead to positive strides in his game, both offensively and defensively. Mejia has elite arm strength that allows him to gun runners down at second or third when attempting to steal on him. He just hasn’t been successful. He has shown flashes of power and can smack a ball out of any ballpark.
Once Mejia becomes a more constant hitter and fielder, expect him to develop into one of the game’s best catchers. His 50-game hitting streak can’t be a fluke.
This offseason should prove to be an important one for the young Dominican switch-hitter. He has been playing back home in the DR for the Estrellas Orientales Baseball Club.
It is only a matter of time until he is comfortable playing as a full-time starter.