Last season, the Cleveland Indians swung a peculiar deal at the July 31st trade deadline — sending two minor league prospects to the St. Louis Cardinals for the talented centerfield prospect Oscar Mercado. The move seemed odd for the Cardinals at the time. Mercado was a highly touted speedster, though his path to the big leagues appeared to be blocked by the crowded outfield in St. Louis, which included another rising star in Harrison Bader.
Flash forward a year, and it appears the Indians have gotten away with highway robbery. Mercado has been tremendous this year, batting .297 with eight home runs and 29 RBI to go along with nine stolen bases. But just how valuable has Mercado been? Let’s take a look.
Oscar Mercado Leading Surging Cleveland Indians
May 14th: Oscar Mercado Called Up
On May 14th, the Indians were barely floating above .500 at 21-19. Leonys Martin, their everyday centerfielder, was batting .221 with a lowly OBP of .306. The Cleveland outfield as a whole was a mess. Greg Allen had been demoted to AAA. Jake Bauers and Carlos Gonzalez were both hitting below .240. It seemed that the outfield, which had been essentially unaddressed in the off-season, was going to be Cleveland’s downfall.
So they called up Mercado, hoping the 24-year-old could at the very least provide more production than what they were already getting from their outfield. Since his call up on May 14th, the Indians have gone 37-22. They’ve gone from potential sellers to owning the top Wild Card seed.
Since his call up, the Indians have released both Martin and Gonzalez. Bauers and Greg Allen have improved offensively. Tyler Naquin and Jordan Luplow, who have been consistent performers all season, have helped stabilize the corner outfield spots.
Mercado has not only become the nucleus of the outfield but the lineup as well. He has thrived batting second, providing a right-handed presence between switch-hitters Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana. In the two-hole, he has an impressive OPS of .828. What’s even more impressive is that the rookie is batting .353 with runners in scoring position.
With Mercado playing at such a high level, the pressure on the complimentary players has been lifted, and the Indians are now a more complete team.
Hot Start to the Second Half
Mercado is slugging .731 in his past seven games. The Indians have gone 6-1 in that stretch, and have cut the Minnesota Twins’ division lead down to three games.
Since the All-Star break, Mercado has an OPS of 1.1205 and 11 RBI in 11 games, nearly matching his 17 RBI in the 43 games prior to the break. He’s already matched his home run total (4) from the first half in less than two weeks.
The Indians probably wouldn’t be where they are now without Mercado. He’s injected a surge of electricity into the lineup and has brought stability to the outfield when they desperately needed it. And now, it looks as if his bat has caught fire.
Oscar Mercado: Rookie of the Year?
Despite missing the first month and a half of the 2019 season, Mercado has emerged as a contender for the AL Rookie of the Year award. If he wins the award, he would be the first Cleveland Indian to do so since Sandy Alomar Jr. won it back in 1990. Francisco Lindor came close in 2015, but ended up placing second to Carlos Correa.
Since being called up on May 14th, Mercado ranks first among all AL rookies in batting average, extra-base hits, runs, and on-base percentage.
— MoreForYouCleveland (@MoreForYou_CLE) July 23, 2019
Tampa Bay’s Brandon Lowe, who has been considered the front-runner for the award, is currently on the IL, and still does not look close to being healthy. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has had a nice rookie campaign, but nowhere near what everyone expected. John Means of the Baltimore Orioles has also put together a solid season as the AL’s best rookie starting pitcher, but Baltimore’s lone All-Star representative likely won’t have the eye-popping stats to claim the award.
A Challenger from Houston
Despite Mercado’s success, we may see a repeat of 2015 where an Astro beats out a Cleveland rookie. This time, that threat comes in the form of Yordan Alvarez.
Alvarez has been on fire since being called up. In 30 games, the left-handed slugger has 11 home runs and 35 RBI. He also has a brilliant .342 batting average and a ridiculous 1.130 OPS. If Oscar Mercado has any chance of winning the award, he’ll need Alvarez to go through a major slump, or get an unlikely trade to the National League.
However, the one argument you could make in favor of Mercado over Alvarez is that Alvarez has spent most of his time at DH. Alvarez has only played the outfield in six games this season, for a total of 37 innings. Mercado has 456 innings, with only two errors. Alvarez has one error in his limited defensive opportunities.
Looking at the overall stats, it’s hard to deny what Alvarez is doing. Even with some regression, the Astros’ youngster looks well on his way to win the award.
Regardless of whether or not Mercado ends up winning the award, he has still proven to be a vital part of the Indians’ season. He has helped turn the outfield from a weakness to a strength. He has become an exciting spark plug at the top of the order.
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