Failed prospect, backup catcher, he struggles defensively, he isn’t the answer, these are some of the comments that Rays fans heard when we acquired Mejía via trade. It’s fair to say that expectations for him were low, and many anticipated that he’d be very much the backup catcher, having a chance to swing the bat once every series. He, however, had other plans.
The Dominican catcher is off to a hot start in April, assembling an offensive stat line of .323/.353/.516, stealing some at-bats from the starting catcher Mike Zunino. Mejía has shown signs of improvement early in the season, it seems that he is not the same guy that played in Petco park last year. Small sample size, yes, but the 25-year-old catcher has gotten better in several ways.
First, he is making consistent contact. Since he was a prospect he was qualified as a power hitter, however in 2021 Mejía is not relying on his power, he is focusing more putting the ball in play. This year Mejía is hitting the ball 58.1% in the medium contact category, he is down in the hard hit category compared to last year (2021, 22.6% and 2020, 36.7%), however, the medium speed has grown by more than 24% compared to 2020. The soft contact category dropped from 30% to 19.4%, so we can conclude that he is hitting the ball more consistently. Another way to prove that Mejia is hitting the ball consistently is his barrel rate. In 2020 his barrel rate is 6.5% compared to a career average of 3.9. Mejía already has more hard hits and barrels than he did in all of 2020.
Secondly, Mejia has improved his plate discipline, walking more and striking out less. So far Mejia has a 5.7K%, while in 2020 it was 21.4K%. He has improved his BB% by more than 3% from 2020 to 2021. He clearly knows his strike zone, and has an 89.1% of contact made when swinging (up from his career average of 77%). He has just seven whiffs (out of 100 pitches seen). What is ironic here is that his swing percentage outside of the strike zone stands at 56.3% which is higher than his career average.
Mejia has followed a certain pattern at the beginning of the season, he has been an excellent fastball hitter and a below-average breaking ball hitter. He has over 1 run above average against the fastball and cutter and has negative runs above average against breaking balls (changeup, slider, curveball).
Of course, catcher is a defense-first position, and when Mejia came from San Diego there were some big question marks about his defense. This season has shown some progress on that front as well. He has only 1 passed ball in 69 innings played. He has caught only 1 stealing, however, but that is one more than in 2020 when he played 101 innings.
At the present Mejía is the backup catcher, however, Cash is giving him the same amount of at-bats as Zunino. At just 25 years old there is some realistic hope he can develop into the decent hitting everyday catcher the Rays have long sought.