Position: Right-handed Pitcher
The Tigers signed Mercedes as a 17-year old prospect out of the Dominican Republic in March of 2008, just two months before he was to make his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League.
During his first summer of pro ball, Mercedes posted a 2-2 record and 3.19 ERA in 24 games; finishing 16 of those outings. He piled up six saves on a club that struggled to get wins. In 36 2/3 innings, Mercedes allowed only 28 hits and struck out 33, but he showed his wild side with 24 walks and seven wild pitches as well.
The Tigers quickly brought Mercedes stateside for the 2009 season, and he rewarded their aggression by turning in a dynamite season with the GCL Tigers; finishing the year as one of the top relievers in the circuit. Melvin finished 25 of the 26 games in which he appeared, and finished the year with a league leading 16 saves.
Mercedes still battled control problems in 2009, walking 14 hitters in just 24 2/3 innings, while striking out twenty. That didn't stop him from posting a sparkling 1.82 ERA, and earning a late season promotion to West Michigan. In three outings for West Michigan, Mercedes struggled to adjust to the more advanced hitters of the Midwest League; getting touched up for three earned runs on three walks and one hit in 2 1/3 innings.
Mercedes continued to close games during the Tigers Fall Instructional League in Lakeland, and he showed continued improvement with the command of his entire arsenal.
TigerTown Pitching Coordinator Greg Sabat called Mercedes a ‘wild pony' last summer, and spoke extensively of the efforts to harness his raw and powerful stuff. Melvin's fastball sits at 92-94 with outstanding sink, and he touches 96 with ease. He has the makings of a true plus-plus fastball at the back end of games. He can struggle to throw strikes at times, but as he learns to trust the natural velocity and movement, rather than muscling up for that extra tick on the fastball, he should find the zone with more regularity.
Mercedes backs up his power sinker with a slider that shows plus potential, and often works in the low- to mid-80s. When it is on, his slider shows devastating two-plane break with tight spin and good deception.
He has a long, loose arm action, but his delivery has some ‘funk' to it according to one scout, and that helps him add deception to an already filthy arsenal. Mercedes has a lot of learning to do in terms of the finer points of pitching, including holding runners, fielding his position, and covering first base.
Melvin has the classic late inning mentality, with an aggressive approach. He attacks hitters with his best stuff, and relishes making hitters try to hit his best pitches. He rarely backs down on the mound, and he has the short memory necessary to be an elite level closer. He still has big strides to make in harnessing his stuff and refining his overall game, but there is little doubting Mercedes' potential as a shut-down closer.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG R
Mercedes' workload has been relatively light the last two years, and with a career in the bullpen, it is unlikely to increase appreciably. The big test for Mercedes over the next two years will be demonstrating the resiliency and durability to pitch on back-to-back days, without seeing a regression in the quality of his stuff. Mercedes has a thick, durable frame that bodes well for his ability to prove his durability.
The Tigers experimented with Mercedes in West Michigan at the end of last season, and early indications are that he will head back there to start the 2010 season. Though he is unlikely to carry the burden of the closers role all on his own, Mercedes will continue to get chances closing games no matter what level he pitches at.
The two big hurdles for Mercedes are going to be commanding his fastball, and refining the nuances of his game, but if those two things click, he could move very, very quickly through the system. As of now, he projects to reach Detroit sometime late in the 2012 season at the earliest.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.