In 2014, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Mercado as the 19th-best prospect in the Cardinals organization. And 26th in the spring of 2016.
After missing the book in 2017, Oscar was all the way up to #13 in the spring of 2018.
And following a trade, he was at #16 in the Indians' organization before 2019 spring camps opened.
Mercado traveled to Cleveland the offseason before 2019 spring training, his first with the Indians organization, to tweak his swing.
The changes were aimed at incorporating his lower half, and the spring results were encouraging. Mercado went 16-for-40 (.400) with seven extra-base hits, including three homers, in Cactus League games.
“The changes weren’t an overhaul,” general manager Mike Chernoff said. “They were the tweaks that he needed. It was mechanical. Getting him to use his lower half more.”
Judging by Mercado’s spring numbers, the tweaks worked.
“Coming to Cleveland in the winter showed the dedication he had to making those changes,” Chernoff said. “It was great to see that Oscar carried those changes to the field (in spring training). That will help make him a much better offensive player.
"He had one heck of a camp, and we told him that,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Cleveland optioned Mercado to Triple-A Columbus late in camp, but Francona admitted it was a difficult decision. “We had conversations about taking him with us,” he said.
MLB debut (May 14, 2019): It’s a moment that all baseball players dream of from the moment they first pick up a bat or a glove as a child. Indians outfield prospect Oscar Mercado walked through the clubhouse doors at Guaranteed Rate Field and stood in front of his first Major League locker that read “Mercado, 35.”
The smile never left Mercado's face. Mercado's teammates came over to say hello. His coaches popped over to talk. The media asked him a handful of questions. Mercado had to ask reliever Nick Wittgren where to go to leave the clubhouse and take batting practice. Through it all, the grin grew wider and wider.
“Well, putting yourself in his shoes, I mean this is one of the most exciting days of his life,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I know having a baby is huge. But you only have one first time in the Major Leagues. I mean, there’s a lot of probably nerves, maybe a tiny bit of like terror, a little bit of anxiety, but a lot of excitement. You just hope that that part actually helps him, as opposed to maybe getting in the way.”
It was an off-day for the Columbus Clippers. Mercado joined some of his teammates for a round of golf, assuming he’d have a quiet day. He didn’t carry his phone on him through each hole, causing him to miss one of the biggest calls of his life.
“When I got back [to my phone], they started calling me again,” Mercado said. “I’m like, ‘Man, this must be important.’ So I answered the phone and it was our manager. He was like, ‘Hey, I wish I could do this a different way, but you have to get on a flight here, so I need you to head back to your apartment now to pack everything up and just head out on a flight at 8 o’clock to Chicago.’”
Mercado had to quickly figure out his next step. He was stuck at the golf course with no car and didn’t want to ask his friends to end their rounds early, so he called for an Uber. At that moment, Mercado called his parents, brother and sister, all of whom booked flights (his brother from Dallas and the rest of his family from Tampa) to get to Chicago in time for a 1:00 p.m. first pitch in the following day.
“It didn’t really hit me for a while, because everything was so hectic,” Mercado said. “And then once I was on the plane, I was like, ‘Maybe I can fall asleep.’ But that wasn’t going to happen. I just looked out the window and thought about it. It was awesome, though. It hits you and you realize that moment you worked for your whole career is finally here, and it’s something that I’ll never forget.”
Mercado is a center fielder, but he has experience in all three outfield positions and will be used in all of them while he’s up with the Tribe. The Indians penciled him in the lineup batting sixth and starting in left field. The message to Mercado was clear from the second he arrived at the ballpark.
“We kind of made sure they told him that this could be short-term,” Francona said. “But I think even if it is, it’s a good way to get a lot of the firsts out of the way. The nerves, the whatever, the jitters … because I think we feel like this kid’s part of our future and maybe in the meantime, he helps us win a couple games. That’d be great. But it’s a chance to get him up here just to let him kind of familiarize himself with Major League Baseball.”
“I told them, ‘Thanks for having me,’” Mercado said. “I’ll just go out there and try to help them win a ballgame.”
In 30 games with the Clippers, the Indians' No. 19 prospect (as ranked by MLB Pipeline) hit .294/.396/.496 with 10 doubles, four homers, 15 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.
“I think I’ve just been able to stick to the things that have helped me succeed throughout the years,” Mercado said. “The only thing that’s changed is more consistency. That was the biggest thing and something I was trying to improve on and something I felt got better this year in Columbus.” (M Bell - MLB.com - May 14, 2019)
2019 season: The Indians left Spring Training in March with Jake Bauers, Leonys Martín, Tyler Naquin, Greg Allen and Jordan Luplow on their outfield depth chart, leaving Oscar Mercado behind at Minor League camp. There was really nothing more the 24-year-old could have done. For a guy who was expected to be a solid outfielder with plus speed to accompany his inconsistent bat, Mercado instantly surprised his coaching staff, hitting .400 with three homers, nine RBIs and a 1.165 OPS in his spring campaign.
At that point, Mercado was ranked No. 19 in the Indians’ Top 30 Prospects by MLB Pipeline and he was fresh off a winter in which he voluntarily spent time with instructors in Cleveland to work on his swing. That extra work paid off enough to almost earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.
“He’s in a good place,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Mercado when they optioned him in March. “He’s a smart kid, he plays the outfield well, he can run, he’s revamped his swing. His future should be bright.” Mercado played in 30 games in Triple-A before he got the call to show just how bright his future may be.
When Mercado arrived at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 14, Francona mentioned that even if his time at the big league level was short, he’d be able to get all of his firsts out of the way. Little did everyone know the success he was going to have.Through his first 39 games, Mercado hit .314 with an .837 OPS, then had one hit in his next 25 at-bats. At a point in which any rookie could easily crumble, the Indians young outfielder bounced back to hit .314 with a .928 OPS over his next 86 at-bats. Any time he started to slip, Mercado was able to quickly figure out how to rediscover his swing.
“I think at the end, it's just knowing that stuff like that is going to happen in this game,” Mercado said. “You're not going to be perfect all the time, but one thing you can control is your effort, and that's something I tried to always give when I was out there.”
The rookie went from getting squeezed out of the big league roster in March to owning the second spot in the Indians’ batting order as he became the team’s everyday center fielder.
“I don't think anyone knew that,” Mercado said. “That's just how baseball work sometimes. You never know what's going to happen. A lot of things can go on during the season, and I was thankful to get a chance.” (Mandy Bell - MLB.com - Oct. 10, 2019)
Dec 23, 2019: At this time the previous year, Oscar Mercado was a player in the Indians’ Minor League system who was trying to get noticed.
The club knew the type of defender they had traded for at the 2018 Trade Deadline and loved his above-average speed, but he was still unproven with his bat. He was attending swing camps in Cleveland to revamp that swing and hopefully find more success. A year later, Mercado will enjoy Christmas dinner with his family as a Major League Baseball player.
Even after an impressive Spring Training, Mercado ended up starting the year in Triple-A, but proved in 30 games that the six weeks in Arizona were not a fluke. The Indians needed outfield help and it was impossible to wait for Mercado any longer. The kid that was hitting .294 with an .891 OPS got the call to the big leagues on May 14. Indians manager Terry Francona mentioned that it could be a quick visit to the Major League level for Mercado, but the outfielder never gave the club a chance to send him back down.
Now, after a successful rookie season of highlight-reel catches and big hits, Mercado has returned to his home in Florida. After being the center of attention for the majority of the Tribe’s season, that spotlight has now followed him into the offseason, as friends and family are always prepared with a list of questions to learn all about his new big league lifestyle. And he doesn’t expect his annual Christmas trip home to his native country, Colombia, to go any differently. Mercado recently joined MLB.com to discuss his favorite holiday traditions, his first Christmas as a Major Leaguer and his favorite moments of his rookie campaign.
MLB.com: What’s your favorite holiday tradition you have with your family?
Mercado: My mom's birthday is on Christmas. So on the 24th we always stayed up past 12 a.m. and we would always sing to my mom “Happy Birthday,” which not many people really get to experience. So we’d sing my mom “Happy Birthday” and then we’d always open presents after 12 a.m. on the 24th, so technically it was the 25th.
MLB.com: How big are your get-togethers?
Mercado: It's pretty big. So here in the States, it's only me, my parents and my brother and sister. Then my uncle is really close by. He's got three kids. They're a little younger than us. And so we always do Thanksgiving with family and friends and then when we go to Colombia, [there's] my grandpa, my aunt—my mom’s sister—and her three kids. And then my dad's side, all his family comes from all the different cities in Colombia. So it's a lot of juggling a lot of different family members when we’re over there.
MLB.com: Have they all seen you since you got called up to the big leagues?
Mercado: No, not all of them have. My grandpa came into town and then my uncle came to New York. So they saw me play. No one from my dad’s side has been able to make it. It'll be interesting. It’ll be kind of a hassle answering so many questions about the season because you feel like when you're home, friends and other people that you hang out with are always asking, "So how's this? How's that? How's everything?" and then you kind of think you're going to get past that when it’s your family but no, they're the ones that ask the most.
MLB.com: When you do get asked about your first season, how do you describe it?
Mercado: It was everything you dream of when you're coming up and when you're a little kid and to me that's like the best way to tell them. It’s like when you wake up and you have a trip planned and you get super excited. You’re like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going here and it’s going to be exciting.’ That’s kind of how I felt every day. … It's just such an exciting feeling that I always tell them it's so hard to explain, but it's just one of those things that when you wake up, you're just happy because you're where you have always wanted to be and you realize like how hard it is to get there and how hard you worked to get there.
MLB.com: What was your favorite moment of the year?
Mercado: I think my favorite one has to be probably my debut because I got to share it with my family. And I think maybe my first walk-off or my first hit. Just like little accomplishments I think were the coolest things. … I think just being around some of those guys. Like when you’re younger, you watch them play, you see all the stars and everything and now you're up there with them and hanging out with them. And I think that's also one of the surreal feelings. Just knowing you're one of them.”
MLB.com: What kind of food do you eat for Christmas dinner?
Mercado: We'll always have coconut rice. Giant salad. We do turkey. Flan. It’s similar to Thanksgiving.
MLB.com: Do you have a favorite Christmas movie?
Mercado: I love watching Christmas movies. But I want to say one of my favorite movies is "Home Alone" or "The Grinch."
MLB.com: What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
Mercado: When I was five, I got my first baseball glove and I think that's been the best gift. Like I was so obsessed with it, which is why my parents were like, "Well, we think he likes baseball because he just won't ever stop playing with that thing." And that's when I kind of started playing baseball.
MLB.com: If you could give a gift to one of your teammates, what would it be?
Mercado: A free round of golf to any of the pitchers. I feel like they would all absolutely love that.
MLB.com If you had to give coal to one of your teammates, who would it be?
Mercado: He’s not my teammate now, but [Yasiel] Puig. He’d 100 percent be the guy to get coal for Christmas. I just think he would be the funniest and his reaction would be priceless. (M Bell - MLB.com - Dec 23, 2019)
Mercado was born in Cartagena, Colombia. His father, Oscar Sr., played soccer and worked as a general contractor. He has an older brother, Juan, and a twin sister, Nathalia. His family emigrated to the United States when he was 7 years old on his father's work visa. They settled in Tampa, Florida.
Mercado became an American citizen in 2018.
June 2013: The Cardinals took Mercado in the second round, out of Gaither High School in Tampa, Florida. He signed 9 days later with scout Charlie Gonzalez, for $1.5 million, about $500,00 more than the slot value.
The Cards knew they’d have to go beyond the slot to woo Mercado away from a commitment to Florida State. And they did so because scouts were sold on his glove.
- July 31, 2018: The Cardinals traded Mercado to the Indians for CF Conner Capel and RF Jhon Torres.