The Indians’ major league outfield was in a state of flux when spring training began, and Oscar Mercado made the most of it. He didn’t claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he came close.
And the 24-year-old center fielder opened plenty of eyes.
“He had one heck of a camp, and we told him that,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Cleveland optioned Mercado to Triple-A Columbus late in camp, but Francona admitted it was a difficult decision. “We had conversations about taking him with us,” he said.
Mercado’s spring numbers were hard to ignore. He hit .400 (16-for-40) with three doubles, a triple and three home runs in 21 games. But when decision time came, the Indians felt Mercado was better served starting the year at Columbus.
“The way we’re situated, playing once or twice a week, in April, in Cleveland, in what would be his first time in the major leagues—we didn’t feel that was setting him up for success,” Francona said. “Let him go to Columbus and play every day, because we all feel he has the capabilities of being an everyday major league player.
“He knows how we feel about what he’s done.”
Mercado hit .278/.349/.390 at Triple-A last season, swatting eight home runs and stealing 37 bases in 132 games. He continued to impress the Indians during the winter when he traveled to Cleveland for two weeks to make adjustments to his swing.
“The changes weren’t an overhaul,” general manager Mike Chernoff said. “They were the tweaks that he needed. It was mechanical. Getting him to use his lower half more.”
Judging by Mercado’s spring numbers, the tweaks worked.
“Coming to Cleveland in the winter showed the dedication he had to making those changes,” Chernoff said. “. . . It was great to see that Oscar carried those changes to the field (in spring training). That will help make him a much better offensive player.”