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Can Adalberto Mejia be the answer?

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With Trevor May set to miss the 2017 season, the unproven lefty has a clear shot at the No. 5 rotation spot with the Twins.

MLB: Spring Training-Minnesota Twins at Miami Marlins Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

The Twins lost 27-year-old righty Trevor May to a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament on Saturday; he will likely miss the entirety of the 2017 season and become the second Minnesota player to go under the knife for Tommy John already this spring training.

The loss of May leaves three roster pitchers vying for the Twins’ final rotation spot: Tyler Duffey, Jose Berrios and Adalberto Mejia. Of the three, Twins fans know the least about Mejia.

Mejia came over last season in the Eduardo Nuñez trade with the Giants. After joining the Twins’ system, Mejia made four starts at Triple-A Rochester, where he threw 26 1/3 innings, posted a 3.76 ERA, struck out 25 and walked only three before being called up to the show.

As a Twin, Mejia has only pitched once and it didn’t go particularly well. Mejia came in on August 20 in the midst of a 10-0 blowout against the Royals in which Twins pitchers allowed 17 base hits. Mejia entered in the fifth inning and struggled, allowing five hits and two runs over 2 13 innings without recording a strikeout. It wasn’t an auspicious appearance and Mejia didn’t make another for the team. You will be forgiven if Adalberto Mejia did not form a lasting impression last season.

Though Twins fans haven’t known Mejia too long, the 23-year-old lefty has been on prospect hounds’ radars for years: Mejia ranked as the Giants’ No. 26, No. 10, No. 4, No. 6 and No. 10 prospect from 2012 to 2016, respectively, according to Baseball America.

Heading into the 2017 season, BA graded Mejia as the No. 6 prospect in a Twins’ system they called the 22nd-best in MLB. Baseball America had this to say about Mejia in the 2017 Prospect Handbook.

Mejia throws strikes and keeps the ball low in the zone, fitting the Twins’ pitching paradigm. The thick-bodied left-hander isn’t overpowering. Mejia generally works 91-93 mph with his fastball, mixing in an average low-80s slider that can flash better and an above-average changeup, and he has command of all three pitches. The Twins love Mejia’s even-keeled makeup and mound presence, and he’s shown the ability to make adjustments on the mound when necessary. Essentially a finished product, Mejia should vie for a role in the back of the Twins’ rotation immediately and projects safely as a No. 5 starter.

As a fellow thick-bodied left-hander, I’d love to see Mejia succeed.

Unfortunately for him, he does look like the kind of guy, if he was pitching against your team, at whom you would holler “CHEESEBURGER CHEESEBURGER CHEESEBURGER” until he looked into your dugout so you could call him a rabbit and scream at him.

MLB: Minnesota Twins-Media Day
Bertie hungy.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, baseball.

Anyway, he’s also only 23 and, by all accounts, possesses and deploys three effective pitches, which is about as many as you could hope for out of a pitcher.

Mejia lacks big-league experience, but his minor-league stats are stellar: in 96 career starts — 57 of which have come in the upper levels — Mejia has posted a 3.29 ERA with 487 strikeouts and 133 walks across 566 innings. He’s essentially a known product, which cuts both ways. We know what we’ve got, but he offers little in the way of projection.

Chris Mitchell mentioned Mejia over at Fangraphs on March 3 as a “KATOH All-Star.” KATOH is a projection system devised by Mitchell that uses raw minor-league data — namely stats and age — to forecast a player’s MLB potential without all the scouting fixations on “good face” and “high butt” or whatever.

Mitchell pegged Mejia as a KATOH All-Star because, although he doesn’t feature on any Top 100 prospects lists, there’s plenty to like about Mejia’s game.

Here’s how Mitchell summed up the discrepancy between KATOH and scouts’ evaluations.

Why KATOH loves him:

Though he spent half of the year as a 22-year-old, Mejia had little trouble putting away high-minors hitters. His 18-point K-BB% in Double- and Triple-A was among the best in the upper levels. Mejia’s all but mastered the minors at age 23. And as an MLB-ready product, he’s a low-risk bet to provide at least some value.

Why scouts don’t (per Eric Longenhagen):

The body is completely devoid of projection and, except for maybe another half grade on the changeup because of reps, the stuff has essentially reached maturity. Mejia profiles as a near slam-dunk No. 4 or 5 starter

Lay off his body, guys! He’s gonna get a complex — and I’m not talking about all those complex carbs he’s scarfing down! Zing!

Damn it. I’m done now, I swear.

Point is, Mejia has proven he deserves a shot in a major-league rotation — and with Trevor May out of the picture, this could be his year.

Minnesota Twins Photo Day
Mejia and his immaculately sculpted eyebrows toss a ball in the air.
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Getting to know Adalberto Mejia

Mejia has conceded only one earned run this spring, though he has given up five hits, two runs, walked three and struck out three in 6 23 innings — not exactly sterling stats. But it’s also spring training and the stats are as useful as the ones that the crazy-ass robot condom generates.

But Mejia has looked the part, and Twins manager Paul Molitor has taken notice.

After Mejia twirled a scoreless inning-and-two-thirds against the Blue Jays on March 4, the Pioneer Press’ Mike Berardino wrote about the possibility that Mejia may work his way into the rotation, under the section header “Mejia Impresses.”

Could the 23-year-old from the Dominican Republic earn a spot in the Twins’ Opening Day rotation?

“I’m still open-minded,” Molitor said. “I think Mejia is attractive. He’s left-handed, throws his offspeed in any count and he’s a strike thrower. We heard his stuff was better than what we saw. I think so far he’s backed that up.”

Touching 95 mph and pitching at 90-92 mph, Mejia has a plus changeup and slider that he trusts. Weight issues remain, but Molitor has noticed Mejia jogging with countryman Ervin Santana and working to improve his fielding and holding of runners.

“He’s a big man, there’s no doubt about that,” Molitor said, “but he’s put effort into it. I think we’ve gotten his attention on how we pay attention to the details of getting the outs you’re supposed to get around the mound.”

Hubba hubba. Either Adalberto Mejia has a shot at a rotation spot or Molitor is angling to get in his plus-size britches.

Although Mejia didn’t face any legit big-league hitters in his March 4 appearance against the Jays, he did flash the ability to mix his pitches in all counts with confidence.

As a point of reference — and in case you, like me, were more familiar with Mejia from a web page than a pitching mound — here’s his fastball to Blue Jays outfielder Darrell Ceciliani, who is (and I checked) a real person and baseball player.

Mejia’s leg kick and arm angle offer some deception, and the threat of a fastball buzzing in or a slider fading out must terrify left-handed hitters from the three-quarters slot he’s releasing the ball from.

Here is that slider, which Mejia doesn’t quite get on top of fully (a problem with his three-quarters arm angle) but that still tempts known human Darrell Ceciliani.

Mejia looks to have the weapons to suppress lefty bats, and the minor-league numbers bear that out. Last year, lefties hit .205/.247/.301 against Mejia; in 2015, they managed only a .185/.228/.222 line against him.

What makes Mejia an intriguing possibility as a starter is his changeup, which is the key for a lefty to succeed against right-handed hitters.

Against the Blue Jays, Mejia threw his changeup confidently and in both pitcher’s and hitter’s counts to keep righties off balance.

After Mejia retired Ceciliani on a pop-up, Mejia faced Jays top prospect Anthony Alford and threw his change piece with aplomb to the right-handed outfielder.

Mejia ultimately froze Alford with a changeup for the strikeout.

Mejia also demonstrated an ability to use his changeup in fastball counts to induce weak contact. (Pay no attention to Mejia’s flailing attempts at fielding.)

For a lefty, a changeup needn’t be a put-away pitch against righties; inducing weak contact can be just as important.

An above-average changeup has helped Mejia to an impressive two-year stretch against right-handed hitters across Double-A and Triple-A. In 2015, righties batted .212/.297/.288 against Mejia, and in 2016 they hit .255/.302/.392.

Against the Jays, Mejia showed that he can also unleash his slider against righties, slinging it both inside and outside to get easy called strikes.

Here’s a quintessential, first-pitch, get-me-over breaking ball on the outside corner.

And a well-spotted, knee-high slider on the inside corner.

Against righties, Mejia also generated some swinging strikes with his slider, both inside and out.

In.

Out.

Mejia has only pitched well in his short career, deploys a sharp three-pitch mix, has little left to prove at the minor-league level and, as the only non-Hector Santiago lefty in the mix, offers something a dismal Twins rotation can certainly use.

Though Jose Berrios or Tyler Duffey have logged more innings and garnered more headlines, Mejia is a starting pitching prospect with an extensive track record of success across all levels of the minor league.

After Trevor May’s season-ending injury, let’s not let Adalberto Mejia’s name get lost in the discussion.