Oscar Mercado makes the grade

Oscar Mercado, going wild in Cleveland (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

The baseball world didn’t shake when Oscar Mercado was traded to the Indians in the offseason. Although he was a second-round pick in the 2013 Draft, he had an ordinary minor-league resume and never showed up on the top prospect lists. Perhaps he was held back by defensive adjustments; originally a shortstop, he eventually landed in the outfield. Cleveland liked him enough to trade for him, but didn’t have lofty expectations, either.

And now we fast-forward to the middle of 2019, where Mercado is doing work. First, he earned a promotion to the majors with a snappy .294/.396/.496 audition at Triple-A Columbus (four homers, 14 steals), and he’s kept the beat going in Cleveland. Mercado has eight homers and nine steals through 54 games with the Tribe, with a useful .297/.350/.488 slash. His Monday homer at Toronto helped the Indians score another victory.

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The 24 year old wasn’t instantly a regular when the team promoted him, but we’re at that point now. Mercado has started 25 of the last 27 games, and most of those starts are in the No. 2 slot. Although the Cleveland lineup isn’t particularly deep, slotting between Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana is a good place to be. And heck, the surging Tribe is on a 24-8 bender, pushing back into the AL Central race.

If you want to throw some cold water on the case, Baseball Savant will provide the liquid. The Statcast data suggests a .271 average for Mercado and a .409 slugging, drops from what he’s actually produced. But given the category juice at play and the lineup position, I’m willing to give the rookie the benefit of the doubt. He’s earned a fairly long leash now.

If you grade all the outfield-eligible players over the last two months, using 5x5 statistics, Mercado checks in as the OF14. Today, we present him to you as a last call, someone who needs to be rostered in even the thinnest of mixed leagues. Once he pushes past 50 percent, we’ll move onto a new episode.

Manny Margot, the kid from center field

The Padres have dealt with outfield gridlock all year, and I don’t blame anyone who initially passed on Manuel Margot. Part-time players are difficult to justify in a typical mixer. But Margot has started to mark his territory in this lineup, and he’s presenting an interesting post-hype case.

The past month has been good to Margot — .284 average, 19 runs, four homers, four steals. He’s walked 12 times against just 13 strikeouts — anytime that ratio is around one, excitement is justified. And here’s the key to the case — Margot is finally locked into a lineup spot. He’s started in center field in 19 of the last 22 games, including 12 in a row. The Padres have finally accepted that fielding a slow-pitch softball outfield is not a winning formula.

Unlike Mercado above, Margot has always had a juicy pedigree. Baseball Prospectus ranked him a Top 20 prospect in both 2016 and 2017. And while the returns have been slow thus far, heck, Margot is still just 24. The development curve is different for everybody.

The Margot story is being screened by others in San Diego; home runs always get the headlines. Don’t miss those 13 Margot steals — on 13 attempts. If he wants a bag, he takes it. He’s starting to get some run in the No. 2 slot in the order. The rostership tag lags at 16 percent, but that could be spiking quickly. Get in while the price is cheap.

Charge it, Mitch Garver

A buddy of mine asked why Mitch Garver hasn’t been mentioned that often in this space. Let’s try to remedy that now. Although Garver was respectfully ranked and written up in last month’s Catcher Shuffle Up — the No. 6 backstop — perhaps that didn’t go far enough.

Garver missed almost three weeks with a bum ankle, but his game hasn’t missed a beat upon return. He’s on a .284 binge with 10 home runs (two Monday) over the past 27 games, making him the No. 3 catcher in that period.

If you were proactive with late-round backstops and waiver pickups, you could have nailed the catcher spot this year. The Top 5 guys over the last six weeks break down this way — Travis d’Arnaud, Christian Vazquez, Garver, Omar Narvaez, and Roberto Perez. This is why we like to be selectively aggressive with our acquires and our FAAB bids. Don’t fall in love with the bench you assembled in February and March; when new information is available, consider it and use it, if merited.

The Twins consider Garver a priority point of the offense. He rarely slots lower than fifth, and lately he’s been getting occasional calls as the leadoff man. A walk rate just under 10 percent plays nicely, and although the Statcast numbers don’t completely buy Garver’s average and slugging, an expected slugging of .538 is welcome on my rosters.

We’re at a time in baseball where young talent often hits the ground running, but catchers usually need extra development time. The position starts with overwhelming defensive demands, after all. It makes intuitive sense that Garver is putting his offensive game together at age 28. For some reason, he’s still unclaimed in about a third of Yahoo leagues.

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