It took him awhile, but Yermin Mercedes has finally made an out this season.
Mercedes was 8 for 8 before flying out to Angels center fielder Mike Trout in the eighth inning Saturday night. At that point, the White Sox’s rookie catcher had already become a baseball sensation. He had followed up a 5-for-5 performance Friday with hits in his next three at-bats and was a triple shy of the cycle.
His perfect start is historic, too: Mercedes is the first player in the modern era (1900 to present) to begin a season with eight consecutive hits, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (via the White Sox).
So who is Yermin Mercedes, and why is he doing this for one of the top teams in the American League?
Mercedes took a long road to the Show
Mercedes is 28 and has been in professional baseball for a decade. He signed with the Nationals as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in March 2011. But he hasn’t been in organized ball all 10 of those years. He spent the 2014 season in independent ball after being released by the Nats in August 2013.
And he didn’t even get to play in the high-profile indy leagues. He had to try clawing his way back in the United and Pecos leagues in the American Southwest. He hit 17 home runs and compiled a 1.124 OPS in 61 combined games at that level. Those numbers got the attention of the Orioles, who signed him as a minor league free agent in September 2014.
Three years after that, the White Sox took him in the 2017 minor league Rule 5 Draft. Regardless of organization, he remained a hitting machine in the high minors while he kept working on his defense. He tore up Triple-A in 2019 (17 homers, 1.033 OPS at Charlotte).
Mercedes earned an invite to the White Sox’s alternate site last season and then made his MLB debut with an at-bat Aug. 2, 2020.
Mercedes made the Sox as their No. 3 catcher
Mercedes was a late addition to Chicago’s 26-man Opening Day roster. The Sox went with him over nonroster catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Manager Tony La Russa viewed Mercedes as a useful bench bat from the right side, especially after left fielder Eloy Jimenez suffered a long-term injury.
Mercedes is backing up Yasmani Grandal and Zack Collins behind the plate. Grandal hurt his knee in spring training and Collins is now expected to be a semiregular at DH with rookie Andrew Vaughn moving to the outfield to replace Jimenez. All of that leaves an opening for Mercedes to get at-bats. After an 8-for-9 start, he figures to be in the lineup more than expected in the season’s early days.
“You have to be ready, catching or DH, whenever Tony wants to put me there,” Mercedes told reporters, per MLB.com. “Do the best I can do. DH, catching, if I’m in the lineup that’s what I think about.”
Mercedes hasn’t caught yet for the Sox — he was their DH on Friday and Saturday.
Mercedes tuned up for camp in the Dominican
Mercedes is a regular in the Dominican winter ball. This past season was his seventh in the league, all with Licey. He slugged two homers and slashed .276/.326/.368 in 95 plate appearances against higher-level pitching.
Mercedes’ family back home was following his every move during that magical first night.
“When the first hit came (Friday), the joy, I thought the building was going down,” Mercedes’ father, Yermin Mercedes Sr., told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday. “We were jumping and happy and screaming. And then the second and third and fourth and fifth. It was just joy and happiness.”
The elder Mercedes told the Sun-Times that he convinced his son to keep playing a few years ago when he wasn’t making progress through the minors.
“As a father, you don’t let your son quit,” Mercedes’ dad told the Sun-Times on Saturday. “You don’t let them give up on their dreams.”