Oscar Mercado: Alive Again From Position Shift?
By Rocco Minsk In recent years, Oscar Mercado has been one of the more disappointing prospects in the Cardinals’ system. Initially projected to be slick-gloved shortstop when he was drafted second round in 2013 and given a $1.5 million signing bonus, Mercado’s defensive struggles at the position got to his head and to his bat and he was not good with either. Mercado committed an average of 35 errors per season from 2014-2016 and the struggles with the bat were not any better. In his first four seasons in the minor leagues, his highest OPS was .638 and Mercado exceed a .300 OBP only once and never had an ISO over .082. All in all, it was not a pretty picture and Mercado was beginning to look like a bust.
Enter a position switch to center field which occurred in the spring. Mercado has been quoted as saying that the position switch freed him from the “constant failures” of shortstop. Fast forward a season, and Mercado is on an upward trajectory. For the first time in his career, Mercado showed a trace of power in 2017, hitting .287 with 13 HRs and an ISO of .140.
Where Mercado can help fantasy teams in the long run is with his speed. After stealing 50 bases in 2015, Mercado followed that up with seasons of 33 and 38 steals. His success rate is somewhat concerning to the sustainability of his stolen base numbers – in the past two seasons, Mercado successfully completed 67 and 62% of his stolen bases. That level of success will not result in the green light at the big league level. The speed does mean that he can stretch singles into doubles with frequency and his BABIP of .348 recorded last year is sustainable.
Mercado’s 2017 meant a metamorphosis into an entirely different kind of hitter. One can argue that he was merely unlucky before this year because his BABIP never exceeded .282 before jumping to .348 this season. His strikeout rate also made a leap higher this season. After cutting it from 21% to 14% from 2013 to 2016, his K rate leapt back up to 21% this season.
Mercado’s body has not filled out any since he was drafted, as he is the same 6’2” 175 as he was back in 2013, suggesting that the power may simply never be there beyond what he has demonstrated this year. Moreover, the Cardinals OF is crowded with the emergence of Tommy Pham and Harrison Bader ahead of Mercado at CF in AAA. If Mercado is to reach the majors, it may not be with the Cardinals as he could either be a trade chip or may eventually get selected in the Rule 5 draft. While Mercado did take a quantum leap forward, I would still display caution and not use a roster spot until he sustains this performance for at least another season, but this may be as good as it gets for Mercado.