#20 Melvin Mercedes: 6'3, 275 lbs., RHP
I had to wade through about 16 Melvin Mercedes' before I found the right one.
You will notice a few things here that make you say "uh oh." A high left-on-base percentage mixed with an ERA performing way above FIP level, and a low strikeout rate. All of that is certainly accurate. However, Mercedes' heavy fastball allows him to generate an inordinate amount of weak contact at the minor league level.
Thanks to James Chipman for the video.
Projected 2014 team: Triple-A Toledo
Small caveat here: he may start at Double-A Erie. Had a few struggles there last season. May throw 10 times there, but should spend most of his time in Toledo.
As you can see, Mercedes is a ground ball expert. He's proficient in inducing weak contact. This all starts with his fastball that hits 93-96 miles per hour -- and has been up to 98 at times -- with intense boring action down-and-in on a right-handed hitter. An extremely heavy offering. It's essentially a bowling ball out of his hand. By that, I mean two things: it hurts your hand as a catcher, and if you don't catch it right as a hitter, it'll either break your bat in half or make your hands sting until you take the field the next inning. At the minor league level at present, this pitch absolutely baffles hitters. His delivery has some effort, and at times, he is prone to losing his arm slot, especially when things go bad. I would like to see him attack with the fastball more often, and try to get ahead with strike one. The pitch has so much movement that swings on 0-0 aren't necessarily a bad thing. If it's located properly, it's extremely hard to square.
Along with a plus-plus fastball, Mercedes also features a slider that can flash plus in the high 80s. He generates solid spin and some depth due to his sheer arm speed. He needs to throw it more often and with more conviction at this point in time. I would like to see him throw his slider as the first pitch in the sequence with more frequency, and use it as an out pitch as well. His strikeout numbers are relatively low, and while that's certainly a result of minor league hitters making weak contact on the fastball, his slider is good enough to generate swings and misses when used correctly. As he goes up the line, more advanced pitch calling catchers should only help him.
While I don't believe he has quite the elite stuff to be a closer -- even though he may have the mentality on the mound -- he should still end up as a solid 7th-8th inning guy. There's a difference between missing bats and missing barrels, and Mercedes falls into the latter camp. Just because he doesn't have gaudy strike out numbers -- which may end up around seven per nine innings, by the way -- doesn't mean that he is susceptible to being BABIP'd. A 76-hopper to shortstop counts just the same as a strikeout.
The elephant in the room (no pun intended, really) is Mercedes' weight issue. He has always been overweight, but gained even more weight during the last 12 months. Look, I'm not saying everyone needs to have Rick Porcello's pitcher's body; that's unrealistic. However, Mercedes is going to have to get himself in shape in order to stay healthy and effective at the big league level. He's listed at 275 pounds, but I'd venture to guess that he's probably an M&M away from 300 lbs., if not more. To me, that's a bit of a make-up concern. Even though he's got aptitude for pitching, a bulldog mentality on the mound, and is a good teammate, at some point, it's concerning. Bruce Rondon took matters into his own hands this offseason and has apparently lost a bunch of weight. I'm not saying that Mercedes needs to lose 50 pounds to be a successful big leaguer, but he certainly needs to get in better shape.
As an aside, I believe that Mercedes' overall fastball command will be the difference between him being a successful major leaguer, and a guy who bounces around the minors. If he can harness his delivery and learn to command that pitch, he's not a comfortable at-bat. Mercedes may see the big club at some point this season depending on performance of course. The Tigers are relatively thin in the pen, and along with Corey Knebel, he may be an impact arm going down the stretch this season.