Bubba Starling has received plenty of attention from Royals commentators wondering if this is the year he makes it to the big leagues. It makes sense that Starling is a frequent topic. He’s a hometown kid. A top-5 pick. A former, future superstar. So, naturally, the media and fans root for him as a comeback story.
But if commentators and fans want to look at major-league-ready prospects from a purely baseball perspective, there may be a better candidate than Starling.
Erick Mejia has never received the hype of Starling or even Nicky Lopez, but he’s showing that he deserves at least some of that thunder. Without a carrying tool or big-time hype, Mejia is putting together a good season in Omaha and making the case that he should be the next Storm Chaser headed for Kansas City.
In 201 plate appearances this season, Mejia is slashing .303/.390/.433/.823 with a 12.1 percent walk rate. His walk rate is up more than five percent from last season, while his strikeout rate is fairly steady. And, he put on quite a show in spring training, as well, hitting .390/.435/.610/1.045. So, what might have been written off as a spring training fluke in late March is starting to look like real offensive progress from Mejia.
His BABIP is high right now (.366), which is likely the result of a mixture of good fortune, his speed allowing him to beat out infield hits, and a high number of hard hit balls. A look at his batted ball data shows that he’s hitting far fewer ground balls this season and more line drives and fly balls. More line drives typically means more balls dropping for hits. So, good fortune isn’t the sole reason Mejia is finding success at the plate this season.
But even if his BABIP drops, which it probably will at some point, his increased plate discipline allows him to remain offensively valuable. If his BABIP falls, and consequently his average and on-base drop 20 points, he’ll still be getting on base at a .370 clip, which is great for someone with a utility profile.
Because offense really isn’t Mejia’s calling card. It’s defensive versatility. In 47 games this season, he’s played four different positions—second base, third base, shortstop, and center field—in roughly equal measure. It seems reasonable that he could play left or right field if needed, as well. His athleticism makes him a true utility option, which the Royals typically love. It’s rare to find a player who can play shortstop, second base, and center field. It’s even rarer to find someone who can adequately play all three and hit at a league average clip. Right now, he’s 10 percent better than league average (in the Pacific Coast League anyway) with a wRC+ of 110.
At 24, Mejia is a full two years younger than Starling, and unlike Starling, he’ll have options once he’s brought up. Like most players with a utility profile, Mejia probably won’t be a super star, but he’s starting to look like a legitimate major leaguer. The question is how much time does he need in Omaha before the Royals are comfortable giving him a shot. If he keeps producing, I think there’s a chance he makes it up before Starling (mostly because Mejia has options), and I think there’s a very good chance he gets called up at some point this season.
For a fanbase constantly looking for the next Whit Merrifield, I’m surprised we don’t give Mejia more attention. That’s his absolute, dream-a-dream ceiling, but it’s a nice dream to have.
Photo credit: Creative Commons user Brandonrush