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St. Louis Cardinals: Examining the resurgence of Oscar Mercado

Prior to this year, Oscar Mercado’s name was mentioned along with the word ” bust”. The former 2nd round pick in the 2013 draft was always known as a strong defender with a developing bat out of high school in Florida. Prior to is senior year he had first round talent but struggled at the plate his last year of high school. Mercado would then go on to have four very mediocre years in the Cardinals minor league system.

Boy have things changed. And it started with his position.

In 2016, Mercado transitioned from shortstop to center field for the High-A Palm Beach Cardinals. Given the great athlete that Mercado is, a position change like that doesn’t rank that high on the difficulty meter. Mercado believes his issues were with him arm at shortstop. In an article written by Max Gelman for the St. Louis Post-DispatchMercado outlines his struggles defensively and how the move to the outfield freed his mind from the worry of playing poor defense.

All of these changes have led to a complete breakout season for the 22-year old Mercado. Offensively, Mercado is currently slashing .322/.379/.473 for an OPS of 852, which is over 200 points higher than his career average. Yes, the Texas League is a hitters park so there is some of that there, but if we look at Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) which has park factor as a part of it, Mercado is at 137 this year whereas his previous high was 86 in 2015.

This is not simply a career year, this is a new career for Mercado

What about his defense?

Mercado has made 55 of his 60 starts this season in center field, even over Adolis Garcia and Magneuris Sierra, who are strong CF’ers themselves. As I mentioned earlier, Mercado is a great athlete who will be able to handle center, but is a little raw right now. Fellow Redbird Daily writer Kyle Reis had this to say about Mercado’s defense:

I think it’s important to outline that his defense in CF has been really good, but he is still learning it and that he does make minor mental mistakes like booting ground balls and over-throwing/under-throwing cutoff men sometimes. All signs point to that he’ll be pretty good out there with good range and an average/above arm when fully developed.

Mercado has only made three errors in center this season, and while that may not be the best stat to go on, many people who watch him say that he could have a strong future up the middle. His ability to stick in center will play a huge role in what type of prospect he becomes.

Looking at his peripherals for signs of change

Typically when a player has a career year, you can find a big adjustment in his batted ball profile or his BB/K rates. So that is where we will look for Mercado. He had a rough first month of the season as he struck out around 26% of the time, which is up from his career numbers around 11-14%, however since May he is down to 17%. The Cardinals will gladly take that with the increased power.

Looking at his batted ball profile, Mercado is getting more line drives, but he is also hitting more ground balls and using his speed to get on base. He is also hitting more to center and the other way, which is a sign he is seeing the ball more and becoming more patient.

Where does Mercado fall in the prospect ranking?

Kyle and I are going to be updating our top 30 prospect list starting on July 1st, but I bet you will find Mercado’s name somewhere in there. I think we are both somewhat hesitant to rank him to high as he is only 283 plate appearances in to his breakout and there will be some struggles along the way. For me personally, without doing my research, he may fall in the 10-20 range.

There aren’t many players in the Cardinal system that have the speed/power combination that Mercado is showing this year. If we extend his current numbers over a 162 game season we would see him hit around 17 home runs and steal over 50 bases.

When looking at box scores this summer, keep your eye on Oscar Mercado. He is slowing becoming a prospect again in the shadows of guys named Bader, Garcia, Sierra.

What a resurgence it has been and we hope he keeps it up.

Thanks for reading!

John Nagel

Father, husband, teacher who currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Grew up in St. Louis and has been a huge Cards fan as long as I can remember.
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