Any time a coach or peer compares a player to one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, that player is in some very good company.
Double-A Springfield Cardinals manager Johnny Rodriguez did just that with Alex Mejia before Monday night’s game against their intra-division rival, the Tulsa Drillers.
“He is a Peyton Manning out there,” Rodriguez said of his everyday shortstop. “He is a Peyton Manning the way he plays the game.”
Entering his seventh professional season, Mejia has been there and done that in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, bouncing back and forth between Memphis and Springfield the last two years.
“I have grown a lot, for sure,” Mejia said. “Playing with a lot of more experienced guys, coming up, in my first year in Double-A there was a lot of older guys - like (Travis) Tartamella and (Cody) Stanley. They have shown me the ropes of the higher levels.
“I have always felt I have competed and played hard. Factoring those two things together has helped progress my game year-in and year-out. The older I get, the more I learn, and the better I get.”
To open his 2017, the elder statesman, who has paid his dues, returned to Springfield for the fourth time in his career with the opportunity to be a leader on a club that features both veterans and younger prospects.
“These guys do a good job of kind of placing themselves,” Mejia said of his teammates. “There are guys that come up to me. Not only me, though. They go up to anybody that might help them, whether it’s fielding a ground ball or helping them with their swing.
“I’m always looking to go up to guys and pick their brains because I’m always looking to get an extra edge as well.”
Rodriguez noticed Mejia’s peers feed off and follow his direction on the diamond.
“They all follow the way he plays,” the manager added. “He’s a general out there. He’s a coach on the field. Gives you every pitch and everything else.”
At the plate, the right-handed hitter has been a consistent force in the Springbirds lineup, hitting a slick .283 with .733 OPS, leading the Texas League with 14 doubles while collecting 16 RBI through 37 games this season.
Mejia attributed the results to slight tweaks in his swing to become more consistent and productive at the plate.
“I think my mental part of it was pretty solid,” he said. “Mechanically, I was working more on my bat path and try to stay longer in the zone to create a little more contact, little more power. Drive the ball a little more. That’s what I was looking to do.”
Defensively, Mejia is regarded as a steady, hard-nosed defender at shortstop, a position typically filled by flashy-type defenders.
“I don’t really think about that at all, but I guess yeah,” the 26-year old said of his determined play compensating for a lack of flash. “I take pride in my defense and all these years practicing and the hard work. When I make an error, it’s something that really eats at me.”
Don’t let Mejia's lack of physical tools fool you, though.
“He’s a big-league shortstop,” Rodriguez said. “Don’t get him wrong. In the right place, he’s a big-league shortstop. He can hit. He’s gotten better offensively. He’s not a fast runner, but a smart runner. He can definitely be an everyday guy in the right situation in the big-leagues. He doesn’t have the flash range as other shortstops, but he makes every play.”
Mejia is not wrapped up in getting back to Triple-A immediately, saying that is out of his control and “whatever happens, happens” while trying to affect what he can - his performance on the field.
“I’m just going out there to play hard,” Mejia said. “Help the team out any way possible. Obviously, I do want to do well individually, but if we are winning as a team, for the most part, everybody on the team is going to be doing well.”
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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