MLB

Yermin Mercedes: Is the hard-hitting White Sox rookie the real deal?

By Sports Desk April 27, 2021

Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna Jr., J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Justin Turner, Bryce Harper and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Some of the biggest names in baseball, but MLB's elite hitters have taken a backseat to Yermin Mercedes.

Unheralded Chicago White Sox rookie Mercedes is the batting leader through 19 games – his .414 average setting the tone.

It is a case of perseverance and determination when it comes to the big-hitting 28-year-old from the Dominican Republic.

Involved in professional baseball for a decade, Mercedes is taking the majors by storm following his long road to the top, but can he sustain it?

 

Started from the bottom, now we're here

If you look at the career of Mercedes, few could have anticipated the red-hot start to his first season.

Signed by the Washington Nationals as an 18-year-old international free agent in 2011, Mercedes bounced between the Nats, Baltimore Orioles, Dominican league and independent league before the White Sox took him in the 2017 minor league Rule 5 draft.

A hitting machine in the minors, Mercedes combined to hit 23 homers across two teams at Triple-A level in 2019, including 17 home runs for Charlotte with a 1.033 on-base slugging percentage (OPS).

Those exploits earned an invitation to the White Sox's alternate site last season as Mercedes made his MLB debut with an at-bat during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign in August.

Mercedes could have easily given up on his dream, but he has not looked back since he was a late addition to the White Sox's 26-man Opening Day roster – a team with eyes on their first World Series ring since 2005.

According to Stats Perform, Mercedes joined Washington's Cecil Travis (1933) as the only MLB players in the modern era to have five hits in their first career start.

With patience continuing to pay off, he also became the first player since at least 1900 to begin a season with eight straight hits.

Mercedes also tops the leaderboard for longest home run of the season – his crushing 485-foot bomb against the Kansas City Royals the franchise's longest regular-season homer in the Statcast era (since 2015). Overall, it was the second longest blast since 2015, behind only Luis Robert's monster 487-foot in last season's playoffs.

New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton is next best at 471 feet.

"I just want to cry every time when I see I'm in the majors right now. I just want to cry because it's a long time," Mercedes said. "I've got a big history.

"It's about time, but it's hard for me because just looking around, I'm like, 'It's real. I'm here'. I know when it was a couple years ago, I said, 'What am I going to do? What's going to happen with me?' I just said, 'God, when am I going to be in the majors? What do I need to do?' Because all the time, all my years, I put up my numbers, do the best of myself."

 

History-making rookie on the right path

There is no stopping Mercedes, whose meteoric rise through the first month of the season netted him his own burger – 'The Yerminator' at Fabulous Freddies, where they honoured the designated hitter on their menu.

The last rookie to win his league's batting title (American League or National League) was Seattle Mariners great Ichiro Suzuki (.350) in 2001. Only two rookies have done that in the live-ball era (since 1920), Tony Oliva (.323 with the Minnesota Twins in 1964) being the other. Mercedes – through 19 games in 2021 – is above that mark at the moment. Whether he maintains that figure is another story.

When it comes to hits, Mercedes has tallied 29 in 70 at-bats this season. The last rookie to lead his league (AL or NL) in hits in a season was also Ichiro, who topped the American League with 242 hits in 2001.

Mercedes is only the second player to have a .400-plus batting average and 15-plus RBI over his first 20 career games since RBI became an official stat in 1920, along with Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur in 2005. Francoeur recorded a .406 avg and 19 RBI for the Braves in that 20-game span.

Francoeur was in the NL, so Mercedes is the first AL player to ever do that.

Mercedes made his debut aged 27 – only Ichiro managed more hits through 20 career games in the expansion era (since 1961). Coco Laboy, like Mercedes, also registered 29 hits for the Montreal Expos in 1969.

"A couple months ago, I wouldn't have believed that I would be at this point right now," said Mercedes. "I'm surprised. So I'm so excited for that. I never imagined I would be here. Now we're here, keep going. Don't put the head down. Just keep doing what I'm doing every day to keep it at that point.

"That's great for me, I'm feeling great, feeling nice because I'm with my people, with my fans and with everybody. So I'm excited for that."

While the season is still young, it feels like this is just the tip of the iceberg for Mercedes, who is seizing his opportunity after years battling away outside the majors. Enjoy the ride.

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