CLEVELAND: The Indians promoted their top prospect, Francisco Mejia, to the big leagues on Saturday, but his time in Cleveland might be short-lived for now.
Mejia, a switch-hitting catcher who the Indians have had working in the outfield this season at Triple-A Columbus, is a top-20 prospect in baseball by most accounts. Because Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez are under club control for several seasons, though, Mejia’s path to the majors is blocked, and the club has wanted to find a way to get his bat into the lineup.
Mejia started the season slowly but in June caught fire, hitting .455 with a 1.193 OPS. Manager Terry Francona last week said there were moments in which Mejia’s heart wasn’t all in to the idea of playing right field, though the club made it clear that there was a place for him in the big leagues if he took to the outfield because of the makeup of the roster.
The Indians’ message has been that he can still be a catcher long term. But, for now, there’s value in having him in the lineup in some way, and that path goes through right field.
"He views himself as a catcher, and he is a catcher," Francona said on Saturday. "We’re trying to explain to him that, ‘We got outfield needs, and we think you’re a really advanced hitter. If you can play the outfield good enough, you can come and play in the major leagues. Doesn’t mean you can’t catch at some point.’ He’s been playing more outfield recently, just because of the need."
Mejia is slated to be sent back down to Triple-A for the All-Star break to allow him to receive regular at-bats. After that, Francona said the Indians will "figure that out." Even a short stint in the big leagues can have some positive impact.
"I think it can be a reminder that, one, they’re like a phone call away," Francona said. "One day you can be in Columbus or wherever. The next day you’re in Chicago. I think that sometimes can serve to give them some hope, especially when you’re struggling like that — ‘Hey, I’m actually pretty well thought of.’ Yeah, I think it can be good for guys."
Bieber sent down
The Indians on Saturday also optioned starter Shane Bieber to Triple-A Columbus. The bullpen has plenty of length with Carlos Carrasco and Adam Plutko available for the games on Saturday and Sunday, and Bieber will be unavailable to pitch before the break, giving the club a chance to expand its roster for a few days with Mejia.
Bieber is expected to throw a short, three-inning-or-so outing to shake the rust off before his next start.
In seven starts with the Indians, Bieber (5-1) has a 3.53 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 43? innings, a strong showing to start his major-league career. But, even more than with his consistency, he’s impressed his veteran teammates by showing poise beyond his years.
"It’s very impressive," closer Cody Allen said. "I can only speak to my experience when I got first called up, and I know how hard it was at that time to really slow the game down in key spots, in big situations, game-changing spots. And he’s been able to just reel it in and make one good pitch after another in those big spots. That’s why he’s 5-1 with some really, really good numbers.
"On top of his good stuff, great command and everything, he’s got a lot of poise and he doesn’t pitch like a guy that’s been in the big leagues for a month. He looks like he definitely knows his way around a lineup and knows how to make a big pitch when he has to."