The Padres held arguably the most valuable trade chip outside of Manny Machado in Brad Hand. The lefty closer has a 3.05 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 3.17 FIP and is controlled through 2021. San Diego shipped him off to the Indians along with reliever Adam Cimber for top catching prospect Francisco Mejia in a blockbuster, to say the least. Let’s take a closer look at Mejia, and if he was worth trading two valuable relievers for.
Francisco Mejia is a very intriguing, but confusing prospect. He earns high marks across prospect rankings, as he ranks as the #15 prospect according to MLB.Com. However, there are many red flags that could get in the way of him developing into a star. He has well below average plate discipline, which could hurt his transition to the big leagues and relies heavily on his bat control and athleticism at the plate. Unfortunately, guys who rely on those two things at the plate are the ones who tend to struggle to get established in the majors and then struggled once they get into their 30s because athleticism and bat control are the two things that tend to go first as a player ages. He’s got a cannon arm behind the plate, but his below-average receiving skills currently make him a liability behind the dish. At best, he’ll develop into a Gary Sanchez type defender, which isn’t a good thing by any mean. However, he does a plus hit tool and has the potential to be a .300 hitter with 15-18 home runs. He only went 2-13 as a September call-up last season, but this year he’s .279/.328/.426 in Triple A. This is the most likely stat line for him in the majors, as his poor plate discipline will hurt his on-base percentage despite his high batting average due to the fact he doesn’t draw many walks. If he can overcome these red flags, and develop defensively at catcher and work on his plate discipline, his ceiling is through the roof.
While the Padres had 9 prospects in the top 100 (10 now), they didn’t have any catcher ranked in their top 20 prospects. Therefore, its safe to say that they definitely had a need to find a long-term answer behind the plate as they build a future contender. They do have Austin Hedges, a 25-year-old elite defender behind the plate. However, he is a career .205/.289/.376 hitter with a career 0.5 WAR. Therefore, he projects as a backup catcher at best and it was necessary for the Padres to try to find their future catcher. Mejia can be that guy and much more as long as he’s developed correctly. The Padres are trusting themselves to finish his development as a catcher, which is a risk, but one that has an amazing potential reward. They’ve already taken a big first step, as general manager AJ Preller has already said that growing as a catcher will be the focus with Mejia. He also states that their scouts believe he will stick behind the plate, which shows that they are extremely confident in the player they’re getting. It’s possible that his development took a hit having to move around to different positions as a member of the Indians so he may develop more quickly now that he’s back to being just strictly a catcher with the Padres.
Going quality over quantity can be unusual in prospect packages, but it’s probably the best thing to do. It makes more sense to get one guy who has an almost 100% chance to make an impact in the big leagues, then get a package headlined by a guy who only has a 75% chance and lower tier prospects who have a 50% chance or less. So when really thinking about it, it’s better to get one sure thing because, in most prospect packages, the lower tier guys don’t tend to make an impact anyway. At 22 with a 2019 ETA, Mejia fits the timeline with a lot of the Padres top prospects, including top prospect shortstop Fernando Tatis and second baseman Luis Urias. That means that at once, the Padres should start to compete relatively soon. Once all their main prospects start to come up and make an impact, then the Padres could become one of the league’s better teams. They needed a catcher in their attempts to build a powerhouse in the future, and they were able to get the best catching prospect in Francisco Mejia. I’d give them an A on this trade, as they filled their biggest need by simply getting one quality prospect instead of a bunch of mid-tier prospects. If Mejia develops into the player he could become, then the Padres may be looking at this trade in 5-10 years as the trade that was the biggest in building a World Series contender.