Editor’s Note: A.E. Schafer aka the red baron has once again compiled a rather impressive list of Cardinals prospects doing a write-up on 40 individual prospects. As a convenience to our readers, he releases the list in a couple big chunks so everyone can read about all of the prospects at once. While that is a convenience to all of us who eagerly await the arrival of prospect lists, it might not be as convenient if you are looking for a player’s particular scouting report. So, as a further convenience, we are putting the individual scouting reports in separate posts to make individual players easier to find. You can find the full lists on our 2018 prospect page here. —CE
#17: Oscar Mercado, OF
6’2”, 175 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right
DOB: 16 December 1994; Drafted Rd 2 2013
Level(s) in 2017: Springfield (Double A)
Notable Numbers: 523 PA, 114 wRC+, .348 BABIP, 13 HR, 38/57 SB (66.6%)
So, what’s so great about this guy?
Oscar Mercado was pretty much off the prospect radar this time last year, as a failed shortstop prospect who had been drafted originally on the strength of his glove and had really never hit at all. Him advancing as far as High A ball was more inertial that performance-based, if we’re being honest. A move to center field midway through the 2016 campaign allowed him to showcase his wheels, but losing the premium of playing shortstop was a tough pill to swallow.
A funny thing happened, though, this year at Springfield. Mercado improved. For what was basically the first time in his professional career, Oscar Mercado actually made some significant strides. His body has finally started to fill out, which certainly seems to have helped with his quality of contact, and he went from an extremely mistake-prone shortstop to being an easy plus defender in center, capable of allowing his natural speed to work, rather than fighting footwork and inconsistent hands in the dirt. The confidence with which he played the outfield seemed to bleed over into his hitting, as well, where for the first time he actually began to drive the ball a bit.
Now, there are still big question marks surrounding Mercado’s bat. In spite of what looks like a very solid home run total for the season, he hit the majority early on, in what looks now like a flukey run of power, and then mostly spent the rest of the season just making moderately better contact than he had in the past, rather than looking like latter-career Franklin Gutierrez all of a sudden.
The strikeouts jumped up for Mercado, as well; he went from a 14% K rate in 2016 to a 21.4% strikeout rate this year. That’s worrisome for a player who still doesn’t have a ton of power. His swing is still geared toward chopping down at the ball — though not as bad as it used to be — and I have a hard time seeing him really upping the power numbers to a great extent with the way he swings the bat currently.
All that being said, the speed, arm, and glove are all plus or better; you could probably put a 65 on his speed, which is his best tool. He can chase balls down in the outfield like few fielders you’ll see, and he’s gotten steadily better in terms of fundamentals and instincts since making the move. Mercado’s presence and profile actually helped make Mags Sierra more available in trade, I believe. He needs to be more strategic in how he attempts to use his speed; early on in his career he was swiping bases at both a prolific clip and a phenomenal success rate, but this season his stolen base percentage fell below that 70% line where stolen bases aren’t really adding much value. It’s worrisome to see how many incredible minor league basestealers have come up to the big leagues and found out just how good major league clubs are at shutting down the running game, and Mercado got a taste of that in 2017.
If he’s good, it will look like: Remember a moment ago, when I invoked late-career Franklin Gutierrez to make a comment about Mercado’s offensive profile? Well, the early career version of Gutierrez actually isn’t a bad comp for Mercado’s future, I don’t believe; the guy who BABIPs his way to league-average hitting lines sometimes, but is mostly sitting a couple ticks below that, but makes a real difference by chewing up real estate in center field. Mercado isn’t as extreme a player as Billy Hamilton, but he offers a substantial amount of baserunning potential, which Gutierrez actually never really did.