Today the Padres traded Brad Hand and Adam Cimber for Cleveland Indians top prospect Francisco Mejia. Not only was Mejia the #1 prospect in the Indians’ system, he’s listed as the #15 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB’s Prospect Pipeline, and he falls in the 10-20 range on just about all of the various publications’ lists. As Padres fans we need to know who Francisco Mejia is, how he impacts the Padres now and in the future, and it’s also important to take a look at what other effects we’ll see as a result of this transaction.
Who is Francisco Mejia?
Signed as an international amateur free agent by the Indians in 2012, the 5’10” 180lb switch-hitter has played most of his games as a catcher, and the Padres have announced that they intend for him to remain behind the dish. His ability to make hard contact along with a cannon arm are the tools that have driven him to “Top Prospect” status, but it’s clear that he’s far from a polished MLB-ready product, as Jim Bowden wrote in his article about players in the 2018 Futures Game who were likely to be traded:
Mejía still has a lot of work to do defensively behind the plate, but with a strong arm that can shut down the running game and the improvements he’s shown in blocking balls and framing pitches, he eventually should become adequate enough to stay at catcher.
Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs has graded his arm as a true 80-grade, the best rating on the scale. His hitting and contact tools grade out as above average, although he has yet to consistently show the raw power he puts on display in batting practice in game situations. He doesn’t draw many walks but he doesn’t strike out a ton either. His MLB Pipeline profile describes his offensive profile as follows:
The switch-hitting Mejia has natural hitting ability from both sides of the plate. Though his approach is aggressive, Mejia generates consistently hard contact to all fields thanks to his advanced bat-to-ball skills and outstanding barrel control. His physical strength and bat speed generates sneaky raw power, especially from the left side, and he’s tapped into it more regularly as he’s climbed the ladder.
Mejia made his MLB debut last year and received a call-up this season for a single-game appearance to apparently give him a shot in the arm. With profiles on both offense and defense that show room for improvement, expect Mejia to spend the bulk of this season and probably a good chunk of 2019 in AAA as the Padres player development staff work to improve his receiving, blocking, and plate discipline.
How does Mejia fit in the Padres organization?
Austin Hedges is currently the starting catcher, and he was the “Padres catcher of the future” for a long time. Now that he’s established himself at the MLB level, it’s clear that he’s a superb defender and it’s also clear that he’ll never be a consistent threat with a bat in his hands. He’s showing signs of improvement, especially since his return from the disabled list this season, but he never showed the kind of potential that Mejia posesses.
The other catchers currently on the Padres 40-man roster are AJ Ellis, Raffy Lopez, and Luis Torrens. Like Mejia, Lopez is a switch-hitter, while Ellis hits from the right side of the plate. Ellis is having a resurgent season at the plate, riding a .392 OBP to an OPS+ of 114. The 37-year-old veteran is on a one-year contract, and any contender with a need at catcher should be looking at him as a quality rental acquisition target. Lopez has five years of team control after the 2018 season along with two remaining option years, so the team might be inclined to hold on to him as a depth option in AAA. Lopez’s framing has rated very well this year and he has shown great improvement in blocking pitches in the dirt. Luis Torrens spent all of 2017 with the Padres as a Rule 5 selection and has spent all of 2018 in advanced single-A Lake Elsinore. It’s rare for a team to carry more than three catchers on a 40-man roster, so expect one or more of Ellis, Lopez, and Torrens to be moved before the end of this season.
Farther down the depth chart, the El Paso Chihuahuas currently have AJ Kennedy, Stephen McGee, and Brett Nicholas on their roster. Kennedy has been known as an excellent defender throughout his minor league career, and McGee profiles as a bit of a journeyman at age 27 who has never flashed the kind of skills that would garner consideration as a future MLB player. The 30-year-old Nicholas has seen MLB service time each of the last two seasons with the Texas Rangers and has hit well for El Paso this year while splitting time between catcher and first base. With Mejia reporting to El Paso, it seems likely that either Kennedy gets sent down to AA San Antonio or McGee may be released.
Speaking of San Antonio, Austin Allen has been making a bunch of noise with the Missions, posting his best season to date with the bat, hitting .302/.363/.549 and near the league leaders in most statistical categories. The 24-year-old has always been a bat-first hitting prospect, and his 6’4” frame has had evaluators consistently questioning his long-term ability to remain at catcher. He’s worked hard to improve his defense each season and he’s starting to convince the critics that he can defend at an MLB level. Joining Allen in San Antonio are Webster Rivas and Kyle Overstreet. Overstreet has the better projection of the two, albeit as a utility player as he is working to get time in at both corner infield positions.
What other moves can we expect from this transaction?
We’ve been focusing on catchers this whole time, but the Padres bullpen just lost two of their most important pitchers. Brad Hand served as the team’s primary closer and has been the go-to guy in high leverage situations for the last two years. Cimber established himself as a reliable reliever who would take on any assignment. The 25-man roster currently lists ten pitchers, while most teams carry 12 or 13. The team is now down two relievers, one of whom was a lefty, and he was also the closer.
Who’s the closer?
Kirby Yates is the clear choice to take over the closer role, and the team has said so. That said, Yates has been even more effective than Hand according to his stats and he’s been swirling around the rumor mill. If Yates is dealt, the team will probably keep looking at internal options. Phil Maton has bounced back and forth between El Paso and San Diego while showing an expanded repertoire from last year’s impressive debut. Robert Stock and his triple-digit heater has been closing while in El Paso and he’s held his own during his stints in San Diego.
What did you say about lefties?
The remaining lefties on the roster are Robbie Erlin and Matt Strahm, both of whom have been used mostly in long relief / swingman roles. The team has Jose Castillo on the 10-day DL with a hamstring strain, and he looked impressive in his brief stints with the team. Once healthy he can be expected to join the team and should stick around. Brad Wieck is also on the 40-man roster, but he’s struggled to get all 6’9” headed in the same direction in El Paso, so don’t expect to see him until later this year if at all. Kyle McGrath has MLB experience with his funky, extreme over-the-top delivery, but he was DFA’d off the 40-man roster earlier this year, but if a lefty is needed in a pinch he might get a call.
*Random note: Logan Allen is THE ONLY LEFT-HANDED PITCHER on the San Antonio Missions roster right now. Strange.
There’s an open 40-man roster spot!
The Padres traded away two players and received one in return, all on their teams’ 40-man rosters, so by my math that leaves an open spot on the Padres roster. The team might choose to add another pitcher to even out the mix, or they might bring up a 21-year-old second baseman who’s been hitting .348/.464/.478 over his last 69 at-bats. Luis Urias has heated up in the PCL, and it’s only a matter of time before he makes his MLB debut. Then again, the spot could go to Urias’ PCL All-Star teammate Brett Kennedy, a right-handed starting pitcher who has been quietly working his way up the minor league ladder with consistent production. The rotation certainly could use any help it can get.
Today’s move could be the first of a cascade of trades and roster moves. Keep your eyes and ears open and we’ll try to jump on any news as it happens. For a fanbase of a team that’s far away from contention, some trade rumors make a long losing season much more interesting!