Buzz from the backfields: Red Sox pitching prospect Simon Mercedes dazzles

March 25, 2014 - 6:08 am

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The glimpse of giant right-hander Simon Mercedes on Monday was impressive enough. The 22-year-old, pitching in the same High-A minor league game against Orioles prospects as Craig Breslow, turned in a commanding performance, mixing in a 95-96 mph fastball with a nasty swing-and-miss changeup that featured late dive away from left-handed hitters. While rain shortened the day, Mercedes' performance was head-turning, as he elicited swings and misses on nine of his 25 pitches. Yet Mercedes' stuff on Monday, according to a number of members of the Red Sox organization, was not his best of the spring. Most pitchers, after all, were working with diminished velocity while making concessions to the rain that rendered the footing on the mound uncertain. In Mercedes' prior outing, he'd worked at 95-100 mph (yes, one of his fastballs reached triple digits) while displaying a standout curveball. It was the sort of combination about which the Red Sox could daydream when they signed him out of the Dominican to an $800,000 bonus in 2012. He'd shown neither that kind of velocity nor that power on his curve in his first full pro season in 2013, when Mercedes went 2-2 with a 3.13 ERA, 8.1 strikeouts and 2.4 walks per nine innings in 63 1/3 innings for Short-Season Single-A Lowell. He'd still been impressive with a low-90s fastball and a swing-and-miss change -- particularly in his last six outings,when he punched out 37 and walked seven in 26 1/3 innings -- but most evaluators considered him a likely bullpen arm in the future. But it turned out that the massive right-hander had an injury in the tip of his right middle finger that, while not serious enough to stop him from pitching, hindered his curveball grip. With that injury seemingly healed, Mercedes has shown a power three-pitch mix this spring that could rekindle the possibility of remaining a long-term starter. Based on his strong showing this spring, there's a chance that Mercedes could make the jump from Lowell to High-A Salem to open the year. If he's able to maintain what he's shown in the spring, the right-hander has a chance to rise quickly up the ranks of the Red Sox' crop of top pitching prospects, which increasingly appears to feature not just a wealth of near major league-ready arms but also, with pitchers like Mercedes, a wave behind that wave moving up from the lower minors.