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Prospects to help in 2024: Michael Mercado

Depth is the name of the game in the majors, especially on the mound

Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Here at The Good Phight, we’re a little different. Instead of making top ten prospects lists, we’ll be talking about some of the players in the minors that can help the team more immediately in 2024. We’re borrowing from a lot of public information about prospects to give an overview of how the players might fit into the team’s 2024 plans, be it at the beginning of the season or a random Tuesday in July.

One of the more thrown around phrases when it comes to people dating is that he/she “has a type.” Certain people fall into a bin that another will find attractive and want to spend more time with. It may not be something that that person can help as the traits he/she finds attractive are innate.

The Phillies, it seems, “have a type” when it comes to plucking relievers off of other teams. Traits that these pitchers possess are things that the Phillies are interested in having for themselves. It can really be boiled down to three things:

  • throws really hard (handedness doesn’t matter)
  • has a second pitch that is at least mildly interesting
  • still has minor league options

These three factors are the siren song that Dave Dombrowski falls in love with. With the success they’ve had developing relievers who met these qualifications, it makes sense that they’d continue fishing in these types of waters too.

Michael Mercado could be tossed in all three of these buckets while also holding a valuable “Tampa Bay Rays alumnus” tag as well. The team traded for him this offseason, sending an actual player back to the Rays in order to be able to place Mercado on the 40-man roster and not be subject to minor league free agency. As of now, there isn’t much brewing on the radar as far as bringing in another free agent reliever, so maybe the team is content with what they’ve got.

As a pitcher on the 40-man roster with multiple minor league options left, Mercado will be given many chances this year to test his mettle. Drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft by the Rays, he’s always shown good strikeout stuff in the minors, but mostly in the role of a starter. 2023 was the first season where Tampa Bay decided that a reliever role was something Mercado was more suited for and he continued to mow hitters down. The problem is that his home run rate jumped over 2 per nine innings and as a flyball pitcher (28% groundball rate in 2023), that could be an issue. Still, as noted by Eric Longenhagen, Mercado’s addition of a cutter to his arsenal on the mound was likely what drew the team to him in November.

Mercado throws hard (93-96, touched 98 late in the year with Durham) and more recently began incorporating a cutter, which has become his best secondary pitch, into his repertoire. The angle of his fastball makes it more hittable than the velocity might lead you to believe.

On a team that tends to err on the side of caution when it comes to minor twinges with their relievers early in the season, Mercado stands a decent chance of seeing major league innings sooner rather than later. If he’s able to show something a little more, he might even be able to become a bullpen regular.