When we last left Yermín Mercedes in Arizona before the COVID-19 pandemic shut baseball down, he was busy retweeting his own spring training highlights and commenting, “See you soon, Chicago.”
It turns out, he wasn’t wrong.
“I'm right here, Chicago,” Mercedes said on a Zoom call from Guaranteed Rate Field Monday.
Now the question is, will he stay in Chicago or head to Schaumburg? Back in the spring, the 27-year-old catcher had eight hits and four home runs in 21 Cactus League at-bats, putting him in position to potentially break camp with the White Sox as the 26th man. Now, with rosters increased to 30 at the start of the regular season, Mercedes’ chances of getting his first Major League action are even greater.
“We went back home. Just kept working hard at home, just waiting for the opportunity,” Mercedes said.
The opportunity is even greater now and Mercedes is getting a chance to see if he can play more than just catcher. With Yasmani Grandal and James McCann clearly ahead of him on the depth chart, Mercedes has played third base and left in the team’s intrasquad games. The results have been mixed and included two throwing errors at third base in Monday’s game.
“I'm comfortable there if they need me, third, left. I'm here. I just want to do my job and help the team do the best,” he said.
Mercedes is one option to help the White Sox in this 60-game sprint. Andrew Vaughn is another. Neither player has any Major League experience, but both have bats that could be Major League ready. Trying to figure out where to play them is the challenge.
“I definitely feel comfortable moving around,” Vaughn said. “Growing up, I played short, I played second, I played third, played a little outfield and pitched, so moving around the field, it's not too new to me and I'm excited for the challenge. What the guys want me to do, I'm all for it.”
Vaughn has worked out at third base too, as the White Sox want to increase his versatility. Primarily a first baseman, he has looked good scooping short hops in intrasquad games, but he’s firmly behind Jose Abreu at the position.
Still, the absence of third baseman Yoan Moncada – currently on the 10-day disabled list – is a stark reminder that a player can be lost to a positive COVID-19 test at any given time. Depth and versatility are key. If Mercedes and Vaughn can provide Major League at-bats, the White Sox need to figure out where they can be put on the field, if necessary.
Realistically, Mercedes’ chances of being on the Opening Day roster are better. He’s a Rule 5 draftee who has been with three organizations at this point in his career. Vaughn was the third overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft and only has 245 professional plate appearances to his name. The shortened season may lead to odd baseball occurrences, but it would be quite a jump for Vaughn, who ended last season at the High-A minor league level. On the other hand, he’s currently getting a crash course in Major League pitching in Summer Camp.
“I think the biggest thing is mindset. Just having the drive to know we're going play and just being ready at the right time,” Vaughn said. “This camp has been phenomenal. I feel like getting here, getting to work around the field, getting to hit, and getting to play with the guys on the big-league club is definitely beneficial for me and everybody else out here.”
Development will still be priority No. 1 for Vaughn, who is a big part of the White Sox’s future. But with no minor league season to rely on, general manager Rick Hahn and the scouting staff will have to ask themselves if it's more beneficial for Vaughn to go to Schaumburg for intrasquad games or stick around the Major League club?
“If (Hahn) said I was (on the 30-man roster), I'd be extremely pumped up and ready to go -- trying to help the team out,” Vaughn said.
White Sox fans would be excited too. And the same goes for Mercedes, who has become somewhat of a folk hero as an underdog with an energetic and gregarious personality.
“I love the fans. I know the Chicago fans love me. They want me to play here in Chicago,” Mercedes said. “The only thing I want to say is, we just need to wait. Wait for the team. Wait for everybody. When they give me the opportunity, I promise I want to do the best for me, for my fans.”
That wait might not be too long. Opening Day is only 11 days away.