GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a White Sox clubhouse filled with big-name prospects like Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn sits an under-the-radar minor leaguer who can flat out rake.
His last name is Mercedes, but this isn’t a sports car we’re talking about. Yermin Mercedes is built like a Mack Truck.
He plays the game like one, too.
“I like the homers. I have a hard swing. I like to swing,” said the 5-foot-10, 225-pound Mercedes, who when he settles into the batter’s box looks like the second coming of Juan Uribe.
“Yeah, I’m good with that,” Mercedes said, smiling when asked about the Uribe comparison. “I’m feeling great with that.”
Chris Getz sees the resemblance, too.
“Juan could certainly do some damage when he went into the box, and he went in there fearlessly. I think that attitude that (Mercedes) plays with, Juan did that,” said Getz, the White Sox director of player development who was a teammate of Uribe’s. “He played with fun and enjoyed the game.”
That joy was certainly on display during Thursday’s workout, when Mercedes celebrated a home run with a bat flip — during batting practice. Uribe would be proud.
“I have fun every day,” Mercedes said. “Everyone likes it when I smile or joke or play with my teammates. They like that.”
How Mercedes got here is a story in itself.
He logged three years in the Dominican Summer League with the Washington Nationals before being released in 2014. He spent time in the Pecos League, a remote independent league filled with baseball lifers. He ended up with the White Sox after they selected him in the minor league phase of the 2017 Rule 5 Draft.
Mercedes has been blowing through red lights and stop signs every step of the way in his all-out quest to make it to the majors.
And now, he’s got another road block ahead of him.
Though he’s got a spot on the White Sox 40-man roster, the 27-year-old catcher is buried on the depth chart behind Yasmani Grandal, James McCann and Zack Collins.
So this is probably a good time to ask two important questions: How is Mercedes going to make it to the majors in 2020, and why is he someone White Sox fans should really be watching this spring?
Let’s start with what Mercedes did last season when he was promoted to Triple-A Charlotte and compare him with one of his Knights teammates, the guy who will likely be the big league team's Opening Day center fielder:
— Mercedes: .310/.386/.647 in 53 games
— Luis Robert: .297/.341/.634 in 47 games
Then there’s Mercedes’ confidence. Spring training games haven’t even started yet, but when the regular season begins on March 26, Mercedes plans on being in a White Sox uniform. His message to general manager Rick Hahn:
“I’ll be there. I’m the 26th man. Yes, of course. I promise you,” Mercedes said emphatically.
Speak with his teammates from last season in Charlotte, and they wouldn’t be surprised if this charismatic bowling ball of a baseball player is knocking opposing pitchers out of games from the get-go in the big leagues.
“When I saw Yermin for the first time, I thought that he was going to have to tone it down a little bit, but he proved me wrong, just by being ready to hit and having the intent to hit the ball and do damage,” first baseman Matt Skole said. “As long as he continues to build off what he did last year, he’s definitely going to make an impact at the big league level at some point.”
And don’t limit Mercedes as an all-or-nothing hitter. He’s more than that.
“He’s a guy who can hit a fastball. He can hit it to all fields. He’s a good two-strike hitter, meaning he’s good at off-speed and fastballs,” Getz explained. “He can put together an at-bat. He’s an offensive force. You put on top of that that he’s a catcher that can do those types of things, it’s impressive.”
Then there’s the clutch competitor that thrives in the big moments. That’s Mercedes.
“You like playing with him, and you don’t want to play against him that’s for sure,” infielder Danny Mendick said. “When he gets in there, he knows what he’s doing. He’s got great eye-hand coordination. When you need a clutch hit, he’ll give it you.”
So if it’s the late innings, and the game is on the line, maybe Mercedes’ ticket to the big leagues is being that fearless hitter who can come off the bench as the 26th man, who doesn’t give a crap about pressure and deliver the big hit.
“Everybody wants me to come in and pinch hit, because I do the job. I get the base hit. I hit the homer to win the game,” Mercedes said confidently.
What do the White Sox think?
“For him to get (major league) at-bats, to get that opportunity, he needs to continue to perform, show us what he’s capable of doing both offensively and defensively,” Getz said. “Rosters have expanded to 26. That’s another opportunity because he does bring some things to the table. If you look at lineup construction and filling out and maximizing a roster, I think he comes into the conversation. If he stays on this track, he will get an opportunity.”
Then there’s Mercedes' catching, which has always lagged behind his hitting. However, last season there was a surprising shift in his metrics, specifically with his pitch-framing.
“From the catching side, I’ve worked with him quite a bit and like what he does back there,” pitcher Carson Fulmer said. “I think his game-calling got a lot better. There’s an adjustment between Double-A to Triple-A just with experienced hitters. He got on the same page with a lot of us, which is really useful.
“He has a great arm. He can hold a runner close to the bag, which is nice. With his framing, as well, he’s able sell some strikes for us. Most importantly, what really stood out for me was his ability to call a game. He’s definitely matured quite a bit.”
On paper, Mercedes might be a longshot to break with the team when it heads back to Chicago, but the Dominican spark plug has made a career out of defying the odds.
This is no different.
“I’m going to surprise a lot of people. A lot of people need me. They say, ‘Where’s Mercedes? Where’s Mercedes? Why isn’t he here?' I take my time. So when the team gives me the opportunity, I take it.”