In minor leagues, Indians' Francisco Mejia makes name with long hit streak
- Francisco Mejia may have been an unfamiliar name to baseball fans before the season, but the Indians' prospect is standing out thanks to a hitting streak that's at 48 games and counting.
Francisco Mejia has yet to play a major league game, but his name is fast becoming familiar to baseball fans. The 20-year-old Indians catcher was the top prospect in the four-player return that the Brewers were supposed to receive in exchange for Jonathan Lucroy, but the deal fell through on the day before the trade deadline because Lucroy invoked his limited no-trade clause and was then dealt to the Rangers. The trade-that-wasn't came while Mejia was amid an impressive hitting streak, one that he extended to 48 games on Tuesday (Update: the streak hit 50 on Saturday). It’s the longest minor league streak in 62 years and the eighth-longest in professional history.
Via Baseball America's J.J. Cooper, here's the professional hitting streak leader board, which includes two streaks from the majors.
|rank||streak||player (League), year|
|1||69||Joe Wilhoit (Western), 1919|
|2||61||Joe DiMaggio (Pacific Coast), 1933|
|3||56||Joe DiMaggio (American), 1941|
|4||55||Roman Mejias (Big State), 1954|
|5||50||Otto Pahlman (Three-I League), 1922|
|6||49||Jack Ness (Pacific Coast), 1915|
|49||Harry Chozen (Southern Assoc.), 1945|
|8||48||Francisco Mejia (Midwest/Carolina), 2016|
|9||46||Johnny Bates (Southern Assoc.), 1925|
|10||45||James McOwen (California), 2009|
|45||Wee Willie Keeler (National), 1896–97|
DiMaggio's 1941 streak is the AL record, and Keeler's is the NL record; he also co-holds the Senior Circuit's single-season record with Pete Rose (1978) at 44. Trivia buffs know that DiMaggio actually outdid himself back in his PCL days with the San Francisco Seals, but few have ever heard of Wilholt, an outfielder who played a total of 283 games in four years of major league baseball with the Braves, Pirates, Giants and Red Sox from 1916 to '19, even getting a brief appearance in the 1917 World Series for the Giants. Prior to his six September games with the Red Sox, Wilholt reeled off his streak with the Wichita Jobbers of the Western League. When his streak was broken, fans passed the hat and collected more than $600 for him, a big deal given that he was earning $185 a month.
Of the other obscure players on the list, four played in the majors. Bates spent nine years with five teams from 1906 to '14, racking up 1,087 hits in a substantial career. Mejias played nine years in the majors between 1955 and '64, most notably hitting 24 homers for the expansion Houston Colt .45s in '62. Chozen played professionally for 17 seasons but appeared in just one game in the majors, for the Reds in 1937 (he went 1 for 4 for his trouble). Ness played in two major league seasons for the Tigers (1911) and White Sox ('16). McOwen, the only other hit-streaker of recent vintage, was a sixth-round 2007 pick by the Mariners who made it as high as Double A in '11; he spent the winter of '11–12 in the Australian League and last played in the independent Atlantic League and American Association in that latter year.
As for Mejia, he last went hitless on May 25 while playing for the Indians' Lake County affiliate in the Class A Midwest League, the same team with which he spent last season. The switch-hitting backstop collected a total of 40 hits over his final 24 games there before being promoted to Lynchburg in the Carolina League and has yet to go hitless at the level, adding another 35 knocks. For the streak as a whole, he's hitting .389/.415/.601 with eight homers, and for the season, he's batting .348/.379/.522 with nine homers. He has been the designated hitter for 10 games during the streak and has remained hot despite three layoffs of four or more days due to the Midwest League's All-Star break, the MLB All-Star break—during which he played in the Futures Game and fittingly got a hit—and a bout of stomach flu. He's taken care of business in his first plate appearance in 26 of the 48 games in the streak, needing until his fourth PA just four times and his fifth just once, on Aug. 4, his 46th game of the streak.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic for a $350,000 bonus in 2012, when he was 17, Mejia is a bit undersized for a catcher (5'10", 175), but he's performed well at every stop, at least when his age is taken into account. Last year, he was one of three teenage catchers at the Midwest League, where his raw stat line (.243/.324/.345) doesn't look like much without taking that into account; even that line caused his stock to fall from last spring to this one. After being ranked 84th on Baseball America’s 2015 preseason Top 100 Prospects list, he missed this year’s list; that outlet ranked him 10th among Cleveland's prospects, down from seventh last year. Baseball Prospectus and ESPN both ranked him ninth, with the latter's Keith Law writing, "Mejia has a 70 arm behind the plate, and his defense, from receiving to game-calling, keeps improving. He's a switch-hitter who's learning the craft of catching while also trying to hit older pitching from both sides of the plate, so in that context, his stat line in low-A looks pretty good, especially since his very upright stance and linear swing aren't going to produce big power."
The streak has restored Mejia's stock considerably: Last month, he placed 70th on BA’s midseason Top 100 Prospects list. Considering that fellow Indians prospects Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield were traded to the Yankees in the Andrew Miller deal, Mejia is now fourth in the system. He's still a ways off from the majors and is unlikely to reach Cleveland this year, but he’s most definitely on the prospect map, and he could continue making headlines for as long as this streak continues.