Oscar Mercado was a 2nd round pick of the St Louis Cardinals in 2013. He was a high school shortstop that, at the time, was considered a glove first guy with some speed and a developing bat. His prospect outline was similar to that of 2016 first rounder Delvin Perez, albeit a poor man’s version of Perez, a universal top 10 guy in the system.
Since 2013, he has stolen a bunch of bases. The rest of his first four years in the system had not gone swimmingly, however. The glove first shortstop has been moved to center field because his glove has been somewhat subpar in the infield. He produced 110 errors, or about 27 errors per season, over the course of the four seasons. His batting average prior to 2017 had never topped .254. His OBP never eclipsed .303. In short, his offense was not great. On top of the on base issues, Mercado hit for little power. In 344 games coming into 2017, he had a whopping 8 home runs. It almost seems that the stolen base ability has kept him afloat. He has averaged better than 30 in that department. All things considered, Oscar Mercado was essentially a non-prospect coming into 2017.
That was then.
Now, he may be among the top 15 or so prospects in the system. A slash line of 320/474/851 can do wonders when it comes to improving a player’s outlook. Included with those fine figures, Mercado has added 7 home runs this year. His base stealing remains a solid asset as well.
So, what happened? Did this former glove first shortstop wake up one morning and all of the sudden become a bat first outfielder?
The peripherals do not indicate any sort of notable improvements. His walk rate from 2013-16 was 7%. It has been 7% in 2017 as well. His strikeout rate was 14% from 2013-16. The K rate is 20% this year. These factors considered, it indicates that his BABIP is giving his season an assist. This could be a symptom of good fortune or it could indicate an element of Mercado hitting the ball harder. Most likely, both elements are represented. Mercado’s extra base hit percentage is essentially identical between the two periods. Prior to this season, 25% of his hits were for extra bases. This season, 25% are as well. The ballpark that Mercado currently calls his home park is traditionally considered a hitter’s park. However, given that the extra base hit percentage is unchanged, I am not sure that being a hitter’s park has elevated his game consequentially. Perhaps his new found home run power is due to the park he is playing in to a degree.
Given the above numbers, I think BABIP luck does play a part in Mercado’s renaissance. I would imagine there will be some regression, but 64 games in he sure has played well. Perhaps his athleticism is simply melding with his on field performance in a way previously not felt. Another possibility is that his move to center field has allowed Mercado to focus less time on defense and more on offense. Any way you slice it, the Cardinals are fortunate to have another solid outfielder in their farm system mix. Hopefully, his offense continues to progress and he can eventually try on an infielder’s glove again. The Birds might have an excellent super utility man in the not too distant future.