Name: Tom Mendonca
Position: Third Base
DOB: April 12, 1988
Acquired: 2009 Amateur Draft, 2nd round
Tom Mendonca's first full season in professional ball was unquestionably rocky. After a strong debut with short-season Spokane in '09, the former second-round pick went through massive peaks and valleys at High-A Bakersfield.
For instance, Mendonca appeared to be turning the corner when he posted a .274/.347/.440 slash line in July. But he followed it up with a .195/.287/.351 performance in August.
Mendonca was constantly adjusting his stance and swing in search of consistent success. In fact, he may have been searching a little too much.
"I tried a bunch of routines," Mendonca said. "I tried a bunch of different swings, a bunch of difference stances––a bunch of different everything."
In the end, the Fresno State product batted .248 with 26 doubles and 10 home runs over 120 contests. He walked 36 times (7.6%) with 126 strikeouts (26.6%).
Mendonca finished the regular season on a high note, going 15-for-36 (.417) with five doubles and three homers over his final 10 contests. The prospect capitalized on the momentum with a strong performance at Fall Instructional League.
He credits the late-season success to finally finding––and sticking with––a comfortable routine.
"Now that I've found my routine and found a comfortable stance, everything is comfortable now," he said. "And it's clicking. Even if I have a bad day––and you're going to have bad days––I just go back the next day and do the same routine. I do the same thing I did the day before."
Learning to deal with the mental grind of a 140-game schedule is often a key component of a prospect's first full season. With his struggles last year, Mendonca says he was forced to learn how to keep bad nights from creating prolonged slumps.
"(The season) was tougher on the mind than anything," he said. "You have to learn how to block out things quicker. I used to take things with me days at a time instead of day-to-day. I kind of pushed myself mentally at some points of the season. But overall, I came out with knowing what to do and what not to do."
After ironing out the mechanical and mental kinks, he began to find more success.
"I finished strong in my point of view," said the California native. "I felt great toward the end of the season. It was weird. It felt like everything was coming together. It clicked––a lot of things. I was just playing baseball."
Coming out of college, Mendonca was regarded as a plus defender at third base. While he certainly has the tools for success, the 2010 campaign was often a struggle. He committed 28 errors in 114 contests at the hot corner for a disappointing .904 fielding percentage.
"It was rough," he said of his defensive performance. "It wasn't what I'm used to. Sometimes I was hesitant, and sometimes I was just caught up thinking. The way I played defense in college wasn't what I carried over."
Mendonca showed off his potential with the glove during the 2008 College World Series, making numerous spectacular plays at the hot corner. Like he did with his offense late last season, Mendonca just wants to get back into a consistent routine defensively.
"I just need to get back to the basics. I need to get around it and go throw. That's all I have to do now. Once I fine-tune that up, which I'm doing right now, I'll be fine."
The 2011 campaign will be key for Mendonca. Only time will tell whether his new consistent approach will pay off over the long run, but he's ready to find out.
"I'm looking forward to getting out there and getting going again," he said. "I've been working out hard and hitting hard. We just wrapped up hitting and lifting right now. I just want to get out there and play again."
Also See: Rangers Minor League Notes (March 18, 2010)
Rangers Minor League Notes (March 19, 2010)
Mendonca making adjustments early (March 28, 2010)
Rangers Minor League Notes (March 28, 2010)
Rangers Minor League Notes (April 30, 2010)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Jason Wood (May 1, 2010)
Mendonca turning the corner (July 31, 2010)
Seven teams, seven sleepers (December 26, 2010)
Batting and Power: A left-handed hitter, Mendonca is best known for his plus power potential. He set the school record at Fresno State with 56 homers over a three-year collegiate career. With Bakersfield last season, Mendonca often put on impressive displays in batting practice but hit only 10 round-trippers in 474 plate appearances. Most of his power is to the pull side, although he does show opposite-field pop on occasion.
As Mendonca mentions in the above interview, he spent much of last season constantly tweaking his set-up and swing. Mendonca believes he has settled into a comfortable routine. The slugger drew criticism from scouts in college because of a tendency to drop his hands and back shoulder for an uppercut swing, though he is working to become more balanced.
Regardless, he'll need to improve his pitch recognition and selection as he progresses. Breaking balls give him trouble, as he often fails to recognize them out of the hand and gets caught swinging off his front foot. As a result, he was overly aggressive last season and didn't put himself into favorable hitters' counts.
Mendonca's ability to make the necessary adjustments to both his swing and approach will ultimately determine whether he can hit at the upper levels. If he finds a comfortable plate routine and improves the discipline, his raw power will translate into game power.
Base Running and Speed: The 22-year-old's speed is a tick below average and he isn't much of a stolen base threat. Over his first 180 professional games, Mendonca has two stolen bases in six attempts. He's a below-average runner from home to first but can show a little speed once he gets momentum going around the bases.
Defense: While Mendonca has the tools to become an above-average defender at third base, he isn't there quite yet. What the 6-foot-1, 200-pound prospect lacks in quickness, he makes up for it with instincts. Mendonca has solid-average range, soft hands, and plus arm strength. However, he committed 28 errors last season, many of which were due to errant throws. His throwing mechanics are inconsistent––Mendonca has a tendency to drop his arm slot and rush his release, causing balls to sail on him.
Projection: The potential to hit 30-plus homers while providing strong defense at third gives Mendonca the ceiling of a first-division regular. He is a long way from actualizing that but can start with a bounce-back performance in 2011. Regarded as a coachable and hard-working player, Mendonca has a fringy hit tool but it could be passable––and allow him to reach the majors––if he is able to make the necessary adjustments.
2011 Outlook: Mendonca will most likely return to the High-A level to start next season, going across the country from Bakersfield to Myrtle Beach. Though he was better late last season and at instructs, he'll need to show more consistency before earning the promotion to Double-A. Mendonca could reach Frisco by the All-Star break if he plays well. If not, he risks slipping on the organizational depth chart with fellow third basemen Mike Olt and Christian Villanueva on his trail.
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