2015 Spring Notes: Mercedes, Moya, Hill

Notes on the minor leaguers from Sunday, including a good outing from Melvin Mercedes, Steven Moya’s struggles and being optioned out of big league camp, and who is Derek Hill working out with?

Mercedes Looks Good in Brief Spring Outing

It was a quick, but effective, outing for Melvin Mercedes, appearing in the big league game on Sunday. He only faced two batters, but looked good against the guys he faced, striking out both Dan Uggla and Mike Carp of the Nationals.

Mercedes was controlling his fastball well, throwing it for strikes to get a head in the count both times, allowing him to keep both hitters off-balance. He only threw the slider a few times, with mixed reviews – backing up what was in the scouting report (Tigers Scouting Report #30: Melvin Mercedes). One slider in particular was more loopy than tight and breaking, almost to the point that it looked more like a slurve than a slider.

Velocity-wise, Mercedes was consistently registering 96-97 on the radar gun in the stadium, while scouts behind home plate had him around 94 range.

Mercedes was removed from the 40-man roster this past off-season, and hasn’t been mentioned prominently for competition in the bullpen. But, Mercedes still has a mid-90’s fastball that can frequently induce weak contact, and on Sunday, was even generating some swing-and-miss. He’s by no means a can’t-miss prospect, but his time also hasn’t passed just yet.

Moya Optioned to Toledo after Rough Spring

After Sunday’s game, the Tigers announced that Steven Moya had been optioned to Triple-A Toledo. The news of Moya going down to the minors was not surprising – it was pretty much universally agreed that Moya needed more development time, and to get more at-bats away from the big league spotlight. But after an exciting spring two years ago, it was a very disappointing showing from the big outfielder, hitting just .125 in 32 spring at-bats, with only two of those going for extra bases, and striking out 12 times.

Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus acknowledged both realities when discussing the decision to option him down. Ausmus stated, “He scuffled a little bit, and he knows he’s scuffling a bit with his swing. But it’s still just roughly a month of Steven Moya’s resume; he’s going to be a good player. He wasn’t sent out just because he was struggling, we also have other outfielders that we have locked in.”

As Ausmus mentioned, they’re still very optimistic about Moya’s future, viewing this as a bump in the road on his journey. “He’s a good kid, he’s as hard a worker as I’ve come across, he will get through this. But it’s tough for a guy to go through it, hard on you mentally, but he’ll be fine.”

In his lone at-bat on Sunday, Moya struck out in a six-pitch at-bat, one in which he never looked very comfortable. He looked tentative in his approach, and unwilling to take hard swings. For someone that has seen Moya authoritatively swing the bat for years (even when he swung and miss), this is clearly a case of mental struggles for Moya – trying to adapt his game to where it needs to be, and taking the critiques about how strikeouts, few walks and little patience to heart. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy thing to remake you approach at the plate.

To his credit, Moya did take two pitches in the at-bat, including one just below the knees with two strikes that in the past he most certainly would have swung on, and with his massive frame, would have struggled getting the barrel on. So there are signs of growth in that regard, it just needs to come without him losing the ability to drive the ball 500 feet, which as Ausmus said, “99% of the people on this planet can’t do, and he can even do it the other way, which even fewer people can do.”

After the news, Moya acknowledged his struggles and the changes to his swing not working out, telling the pool of reporters, "Maybe I put pressure on myself a little bit and tried to do too much," Moya said. "Trying to do too much, I did nothing."

Derek Hill getting in time with High-A Lakeland

Minor league action is just getting underway in Lakeland, as the minor league players don’t showing up until early in March, and get the same ramp up period that the big leaguers do to go through workouts and adequate practice time.

One interesting item of note, is that last year’s first round pick, outfielder Derek Hill, was working out with the Lakeland team, as opposed to the West Michigan team. Most early roster forecasts, including TigsTown’s, had Hill slated for the Whitecaps.

It is of course VERY early in spring, and often times the “who is practicing with which teams” can mean nothing, but usually, priority prospects like Hill end up where they want them to be from the start. Stay tuned to see if Hill continues to practice with the Flying Tigers the rest of the week – if he does, it’s a sure fire indication that Hill will spend his first year of full-season pro-ball at the Tigers spring home in Lakeland.

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