To me, that reads it doesn’t matter what Roberto Perez does, we will always prefer him over anyone else because he’s already under contract. To start breaking this down, maybe the most unimportant part is where Terry Francona talks about Mejia’s short call-up earlier in 2018 where he didn’t get a single at bat. This one game call-up on June 11th that came when Mejia was struggling actually came immediately after he had ended a ten game hitting streak that included two doubles, a triple and a home run where he raised his line from .178/.236/.276 to .216/.274/.337 and he has continue to improve from there, hitting .287/.336/.446 through June 29th.
Yes, Mejia has better numbers after that call up, but no, it had nothing to do with it. It is funny, however, that when they don’t want a young player up they claim that sitting on the bench in the majors will hurt his development, but when they do call him up and he has better numbers after it is because he sat on a major league bench.
More important is the idea that Perez is currently the better option. Mejia is a career .292/.345/.442 hitter in the minors and is nearing that this year despite a slow start. He has a quick bat that allows him to consistently make contact and is known for striking out extremely rarely, one of the reason he has so many extended hitting streak. In addition to the 10 gamer mentioned, he has his famous 50 game streak from his days in Lynchburg and currently has hits in 16 of 17 games with multiple hits in 8 consecutive games.
Perez, on the other hand, is hitting .141/.231/.228 this year and has a career line of .207/.300/.345. Francona is correct in noting that we shouldn’t focus on batting average, but a .300 OBP is terrible and a .231 is unacceptable. Among players with at least 100 PA in 2018, Perez ranks 351st of 355 qualifiers. Unlike average, OBP does matter. wRC+ also matters and Perez has a 26 where the league average is 100. You may say, “but what about defense,” however, so I will tell you about his defense.
With a 0.1 defense score, he is the 78th best catcher in the Majors this year. That means essentially you could take every MLB starter, every MLB bench catcher and the 17 best AAA catchers, then Perez would fit in, although I’m sure there are plenty of better catchers in AAA who don’t qualify because they haven’t hit the big leagues yet. Eric Haase and Mejia are certainly two. As far as base runners, he has been worth -2 runs, the second worst in baseball to Robinson Chirinos.
As far as more familiar metrics, he’s 77 of 84 qualifying catchers in field percentage (an extremely flawed stat for catchers because it includes strike outs as put outs) and has caught just 3 of 22 attempted base stealers while allowing two passed balls and 13 wild pitches. He is bad. He is historically bad in every single facet of the game. A 12 year old who can transfer the ball from his glove to his throwing hand without dropping it would be an improvement at times and this is the man who Francona places all his confidence in over the Indians top hitting prospect. Maybe he’s being hurt by his time on the bench and should be sent to AAA where he can play every day. Some guy named Terry Francona said “that’s not developing” and Perez could use some developing right now.
Of course, this type of trashing prospects who were only doing their best is nothing new. Now, Francisco Lindor gets the Perez treatment (although he actually deserves it) and if someone were to mention bringing up Yu-Cheng Chang or Eric Stamets, Francona would certainly throw a fit. However, back in 2015 (you know the year that Lindor came in 2nd in the Rookie of the Year vote and would have won a Gold Glove had he been on the team long enough to qualify), Chris Antonetti said this, again to Jordan Bastian:
Antonetti said Lindor still has a “litany of things” to work on with Columbus before potentially getting the call to the Majors. The GM also said he does not believe that Lindor is dealing with any frustration over wondering what else he has to do in order to earn a promotion.
Like Mejia this year, Lindor had been seriously considered to start the season with the team in 2015 and struggled offensively in April. However, he had completely turned things around by May, but was somehow “not ready” until the super two deadline had passed and the Indians were sure they wouldn’t lose a year of control due to service time. What a coincidence that Lindor went from a litany of things to work on to a 4.6 WAR player in the exact same amount of time that it took to keep him away from an extra year of arbitration eligibility. It’s almost as if the Indians intentionally kept him down a couple months longer than they had to so they could control him longer for less money. No. A team would never do that. Never.
But sometimes they might lie a little. Remember Jesus Aguilar? If you listen to BurningRiverRadio or follow me on twitter @BurningRiverBB you certainly could never forget him with the constant reminders. He’s currently in the running to be on the 2018 NL All-Star team (although Freddie Freeman is deservedly leading in votes) and 5th in WAR among all MLB 1B. For comparison, Carlos Santana is 13th and Yonder Alonso is 15th. He has 19 home runs and has been worth more both offensively and defensively than Joey Votto. While there are probably better quotes, I like this one from Francona about Aguilar. After saying “I think we’re looking for a way to get him here,” he went on with this as told to T.J. Zuppe:
For the near future we’d really like to watch him (Aguilar) play, Francona said. Especially with the lefties coming up, it seemed like a great time to get him here.
That extended look in 2015 lasted three games. They must have really wanted to see him as, after he had two hits and a HBP in three games (starting July 24th), he was sent back to AAA and didn’t get into another MLB game until September 30th. He had four hits in four games to end the year and had tremendous numbers in AAA, so you would expect him to deserve to start the 2016 season in the Majors. Instead, the Indians signed Francona’s old friend Mike Napoli, pushing him to third on the depth chart.
As Napoli floundered down the stretch (as old men do when playing in more games than ever before in their career), he hit .184/.309/.297 after August 12th. You would think this would be the moment to bring up the first baseman of the future, especially one burning minor league options and being paid the salary of a member of the 40 man roster. Instead, the Indians gave Napoli 149 games at 1B and DH, Santana 156, Aguilar 9, Chisenhall 4 and Chris Gimenez 4. Aguilar played just 9 games in the majors in 2016 and, while he didn’t play well, how could you expect him to after being pushed down to his eyes in mud all season? This was his final minor league option season and the Indians had to see what he had, lose him in 2017 or keep him on the 25 man as an unknown and they chose to lose him. The Brewers are pretty happy they picked that option.
While I could dote on Aguilar forever, he’s gone. Yandy Diaz is still here. Diaz was trashed defensively heading into 2017 when he was in the mix as the Indians utility man. In a similar position to Mejia this year, the Indians had asked Diaz, who was naturally a third baseman, to try the outfield in an effort to get to the big leagues quicker. While not adept there, Diaz was always considered a plus defender at third until the Indians own front office came out against him. In the big leagues, however, things looked different as he made 5 out of 5 plays considered even (50% chance to make, 50% chance to miss), 3 of 5 plays considered likely and 96.6% of plays considered routine. He didn’t get a long enough chance to get significant defensive numbers, but these certainly aren’t horrible. This season, however, with Erik Gonzalez out of options, Yandy has essentially been forgotten and his .291/.424/.377 line in AAA completely ignored.
Of course, Gonzalez was himself a victim to prospect ignoring. He hit AAA in 2015, but was not given the primary utility role until this season, when he had to be given a bench spot or be lost altogether. The Indians instead ran through multiple extremely subpar seasons of Mike Aviles and Michael Martinez. Giovanny Urshela, who was recently DFA’d by the Indians, then the Blue Jays, was also used in such a role in 2017, although he got the silent treatment in 2016 when he didn’t play a single game in the majors after having a nice 2015.
Francona has said many times that he prefers veteran players in bench roles as young players need to play every day to develop and aren’t reliable in a bench role, but what about players who have a future as a bench player? Erik Gonzalez has certainly both been successful this year in a limited role and doesn’t seem to need more developing. In any event, his lack of options makes further development in AAA impossible.
So now, the Indians are burning option years of Mejia, Diaz and more as they “are not ready” despite overwhelming evidence stating they are. Even if they aren’t really ready for the majors now, will they ever be? Diaz will be 27 in August. By 27, most MLB greats have had a few MLB seasons under their belts and are hitting their prime. By 30, they are hitting their decline. If Diaz isn’t ready right now, why not give up on him completely? Mejia is only 22, but what more could he possibly prove in AAA that he hasn’t already.
The Indians are so in love with Yan Gomes and Perez that they knew they wouldn’t want Mejia at catcher in 2018, but that he’d be ready, so they tried him at third in the 2017 AFL. After an extremely short try out, they said it was no good and asked him to play the outfield. He’s done this as well, playing 22 of 58 games in the field in the outfield.
This brings up another lie or at least misleading statement from Francona. His comments on Mejia playing outfield make it seem like Mejia has refused to play there, but he has played nearly half his games in the grass. If he has stated a preference for catcher, that is certainly not something worth punishment. He has played 366 games behind the plate already in his minor league career and was signed as a catcher.
Francona has shown so much loyalty to his active MLB players that he simply doesn’t care about the opinions of minor leaguers or where they are best suited to play. He moved Tony Wolters from second to catcher on a whim, but largely due to Jason Kipnis being entrenched at second. With both Kipnis and Jose Ramirez now in place, Yandy Diaz was asked to play outfield. When Mejia was asked to play third, it was during the Kipnis to center experiment, but when that obviously wasn’t going to work, Mejia was asked to play outfield instead. Maybe it wasn’t the 10 games at third base that proved Mejia couldn’t play there but the fact that Kipnis was going back to second and Ramirez back to third.
I’m not saying Mejia should have stayed at third (the experiment never should have been attempted), but he certainly didn’t get a long enough look there to learn anything. The same is true in the outfield. How could he possibly have learned the outfield well enough in 22 games to do so in the majors? How could he if he played three seasons there? Tyler Naquin has played 460 games in the outfield in his pro career and is still terrible. He’s also naturally suited for the position and much faster than Mejia. The only reason for Mejia to play one minute in the outfield is deference to Gomes and Perez.
Francisco Lindor was arguably the Indians best prospect since Manny Ramirez. The Indians knew that the moment they drafted him and he became their number one prospect. He was always amazing in the minors and obviously ready for the majors at the beginning of 2015, but they trashed him in the press and held him back until super two passed (let’s see if he remembers that as well as the Gold Glove and Rookie of the Year it cost him when extension talks start). Now, Mejia is the team’s top offensive prospect and he is getting even worse treatment. Do not believe for one second that he isn’t ready. He was hitting Major League pitching back in 2017 when he hit .421/.450/.789 in MLB spring training including two home runs. He has also been a fine if not exemplary catcher with an extremely strong throwing arm. He is as ready as he will ever be. Terry Francona is lying to you and he has many times before. He will do anything to protect his current players, including insulting his future players.
What makes this particularly disconcerting is its two faced nature. The Indians want you to love their young players, including their prospects. As soon as a Lindor or Naquin makes it big, they become huge areas for marketing. Yet, they constantly speak ill of current prospects, be it Lindor, Diaz, Aguilar, Mejia or others.
Even if they don’t outright talk them down, they push them behind. Adam Plutko had great seasons in 2015 and 2016 and despite Josh Tomlin having a terrible 2017, he didn’t get a shot in the rotation until 2018 and it took injuries to Danny Salazar, Ryan Merritt and Cody Anderson to make it happen. Tomlin is even worse this year and somehow remains on the team over many more talented options in the minors, including at least one, Kieran Lovegrove, who will be a minor league free agent at the end of the season if not added to the 40 man roster. He only has a 1.45 ERA and 44 strike outs through 37.1 innings with a fastball nearing 100 MPH, so he probably isn’t ready either. Much better to stick with Tomlin because he signed a three year contract. We all know the most important aspect of a baseball player on the field is the contract he signed years ago.