There are very few things that baseball fans can agree on, but chief among those that they do is love a thicc boi who doesn’t have a position and can absolutely annihilate a baseball. So you can imagine how that universal understanding has very much contributed to the early attention being directed toward Yermín Mercedes.
Aside from his physical stature and bat-only role, Mercedes is a wildly interesting baseball player just in a very general sense. From the age of 18, he plied his trade in the minor leagues to the tune of over 2,000 plate appearances, finally reaching the Triple-A level in 2019 as a 26-year-old with his third different Major League organization (not to mention a host of independent league clubs). Now 28, that extensive and tumultuous decade has likely proven worthwhile for Mercedes.
For a guy who spent so much time in the minor leagues and has seemingly never had a legitimate position, it definitely fits the bill as a “feel good” type of story, especially the way things kicked off for him in 2021. Ken Rosenthal had a really nice writeup among his notes a couple weeks back (paid subscription). The gist there is that while Mercedes has always had a projectable bat, it’s that lack of position—as well as questions about his overall makeup— that really left him on the periphery as far as his potential for having a sustainable Major League career. So for a guy like that to get his opportunity and showcase what he can do right out of the gate is genuinely inspiring stuff.
And what a start that was. After a quality showing in the spring and Eloy Jiménez’s long-term injury compounded to give Mercedes a crack at the everyday DH spot, Mercedes began his Chicago White Sox career 8-for-8. That included a 5-for-5 debut and a 3-for-4 effort the next night, in which he also hit his first big league home run. Even as we draw closer to the end of April, Mercedes’ first month in the big leagues continues to border on absurdity. His wRC+ sits at 209 as of this writing, with a slash at .390/.429/.661/1.090. He’s since added three homers since that first career blast and sits at a .271 ISO thus far.
Some obscene output there, to be sure. And obviously one of those lines you look at in April and wonder just how far those numbers could plummet over the course of the summer months. If you’re a pessimist, anyway. But while numbers are, of course, going to even out over the course of the year, should we really expect that sharp of a decline in the impact of Mercedes’ bat?
It’s an important question because that is what’s going to keep Mercedes in the bigs long-term. He’s a catcher who can’t catch and likely isn’t going to break into any kind of role at first base, which is the most obvious association when talking about a move from behind the plate.
They should just throw him in the outfield and see what happens. An American League team—like the Sox—is his best chance to latch on to a spot for the long run. But when his bat eventually levels out in the way that all April starts do, will he be able to maintain a consistent impact or fade off into oblivion like the Chris Sheltons of the world?
Some of the early knocks on Mercedes, outside of the defense, related to his approach and his swing. James Fegan of The Athletic (again, paid subscription) noted that Mercedes featured a swing and approach in the minors that was likened to slow-pitch softball hack. A max effort swing and questionable approach didn’t do Mercedes any favors early in his professional career, especially as both the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles tried to project his future. But a few years later, it’s the approach that could ultimately be the key to sustainable success, unique as it may be.
Because for as maximum effort as Mercedes’ swing might have appeared in the past, he’s figured out a healthy balance. It’s allowed his bat-to-ball skills, which have always been present despite those questions about his mechanics, to really become the apotheosis of his early run. He’s proven capable of recognizing the situation, the count, whatever it may be and address the baseball as needed.
Mercedes has never been a high strikeout guy, wild minor league swing mechanics aside. The question was how he’d adjust to the top tier of opposing pitching. The answer has been a strikeout rate just a shade under 16 percent, putting him in the 83rd percentile in the league. Not bad for a guy who falls on the higher end of the Swing% rankings (50.8). Even better is that he’s making contact at a 83.9 percent rate, including a 90.6 rate on pitches inside of the strike zone and a 76.3 mark on those outside of it, both of which put him in the top 30 qualifying hitters to date.
Even his 24.6 CSW% is on the lower side of things. His Whiff% sits in the 89th percentile. He’s an aggressive hitter, but that aggressiveness is not a detriment to his game. Especially having slowed things some with the overall mechanics. He hasn’t made super hard contact on a consistent basis, but working in his favor are those bat-to-ball skills and his ability to at least make quality contact, with a Barrel% that sits in the 70th percentile. And while it’s more about consistent contact and less about consistent power, we know the power is there. Mercedes has reached a 113.3 exit velocity at his max.
We know the numbers are going to slow somewhat and we know that you can’t get overly excited about percentile rankings in April. But as much as that .422 BABIP and the fact that he’s pulling the ball almost 50 percent of the time might cause one to scream regression, he has a lot working in his favor. Those contact skills and power in that frame have him at the 91st percentile in xBA (.319). He’s an aggressive hitter who’s going to get his hacks in, but he’s doing it in the most...reasonable fashion possible.
Of course, there are definitely some questions that kind of weave throughout the path of Yermín Mercedes’ potential future with the White Sox. Eloy Jiménez will return eventually, and it’s highly unlikely that he’ll see the field much given the fact that he likely shouldn’t have been there to begin with. And a team that already has Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets, and (to a lesser extent in this conversation) Jake Burger has a plethora of options to roll out as the DH. Could that mean less of an opportunity for Yermín Mercedes in the future? Without a defensive position to stand on, it’s a murky picture.
But that’s an issue for a later date. For now, it’s time to sit back and admire the sweet swing and the infectious energy of Yermín Mercedes. Just don’t let him pitch in a six-run game ever again.
Randy Holt is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.