Under the Radar details players in the Chicago White Sox system who may have suffered setbacks, gotten lost in the shuffle, or just haven’t surfaced as significant prospects as of yet. Next up is Yermin Mercedes, an offensive-minded backstop who has been one of the best hitters in the Carolina League since June.

Yermin Mercedes (C) — Winston-Salem Dash

Mercedes was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in the Minor League phase of last year’s December Rule 5 draft. Before that, Mercedes had quite an interesting history.

At 18, the Dominican Republic native from La Romana (home of Edwin Encarnacion and Antonio Alfonseca, among others) signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals, in March 2011. After two successful offensive years with Washington’s DSL squad, where he slashed .313/.379/.397, he struggled to the tune of .255/.359/.439 in 2013 and was subsequently released. Mercedes spent 2014 dominating the independent Pecos League, playing for such teams as the White Sands (N.M.) Pupfish, Douglas (Ariz.) Diablos, and San Angelo (Texas) Colts, with a .380/.420/.699 slash line. He was then signed as a free agent by the Orioles on September 8, 2014.

From 2015 to 2017, Mercedes continued raking with Delmarva (A), Frederick (A+), and Bowie (AA). During those three years, he hit .304/.359/.504, with a combined 54 homers. For the Winston-Salem Dash in 2018, he’s continued pounding to the ball to a .304/.386/.496 slash line, with 10 homers, 50 RBI, and 36 walks (11.1 BB%) compared to 56 strikeouts (17.3 K%) over 280 at-bats. However, if you look at his stats since the beginning of June, he’s really pounded the ball off the charts: In 50 games during that span, he’s hit .351/.443/.577 with eight homers and 40 RBI during that span.

Mercedes is listed at five-foot-11 and 175 pounds, which is hard to believe based on his photos and videos, which make Mercedes appear to be closer to 210-215. He definitely profiles as an offensive-minded catcher, but one who actually throws out his fair share of baserunners. In fact, Mercedes has gunned down 44% of attempted thefts in 2018, which is slightly above his career rate of 40%. Thus, he appears to have a decent arm and quick release behind the plate.

His problems defensively are primarily with the glove. So far in 2018, he has 11 passed balls; he’d had issues in the past with this as well, as evidenced by his combined 47 passed balls in 2015 and 2016. This, of course, doesn’t even include the wild pitches he’s allowed. In the Orioles system, Mercedes played just as much DH as catcher. With the Dash, he’s only played a handful of games at DH; in the field, he’s spent 82% of his games at catcher, with the rest at first base.

Unfortunately for Mercedes, he’s got three things going against him:

  1. The top two catchers in the White Sox system (Zack Collins and Seby Zavala) are already ahead of him.
  2. Those same guys are also considered offensive-minded catchers
  3. Mercedes is 25 — quite old for someone in A+ ball.

To begin next season, I believe Welington Castillo and Omar Narvaez will be the Opening Day catchers for the White Sox, Zavala and Collins will begin in Charlotte, and Kevan Smith will be sent to another organization (I’d prefer to see Castillo traded instead, but I’m doubtful that will happen).

It’s possible Mercedes begins next year as Birmingham’s catcher, but I believe his future lies at either first base or DH. Because there is nobody in Charlotte or Birmingham that rates as a consistently good hitter at those positions (Matt Skole, Casey Gillaspie, Matt Rose, Keon Barnum, etc.), first base would be the perfect opportunity for Mercedes to skip Birmingham and begin with Charlotte next year. He’d be age-appropriate for Charlotte, and his offense should be playable there; he could even take over immediately as the backup catcher if/when Zavala or Collins earn their promotion to Chicago.

One final note—Castillo will be eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft in December. It’s conceivable that he’d be claimed if unprotected, as good-hitting catchers are difficult to find.