Way back in 2011, Yermin Mercedes was signed as an international free agent by the Washington Nationals.
On April 2, 2021, Mercedes made history with the Chicago White Sox, becoming the first major-leaguer ever to go 5-for-5 in his first start.
What has happened over the last decade, and how did the now 28-year-old rookie make the roster and make a case for Rookie of the Year after just one MLB start? Let’s embark on a journey to learn all about the team’s newest star.
With Washington, Mercedes couldn’t even get out of the Dominican Summer League (DSL), spending 2011-13 there until his release in 2013.
Mercedes spent the 2014 season in independent baseball, playing for the Douglas Diablos and the White Sands Pupfish of the Pecos League, and for the San Angelo Colts of the United League Baseball.
Following the 2014 season, Mercedes was signed by the Baltimore Orioles and spent the 2015 season with the Delmarva Shorebirds, hitting .272/.302/.456 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs. In 2016 he split the season between Delmarva and the Frederick Keys, hitting a combined .345/.404/.570 with 20 home runs and 77 RBIs. Mercedes just kept climbing, splitting the 2017 season between Frederick and the Bowie Baysox, hitting a combined .276/.340/.455 with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs.
Because his career had already run long, Mercedes was exposed to the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft after the 2017 season and the White Sox snapped him up. And from there, things really started to pick up.
Assigned to the High-A Winston-Salem Dash in 2018, Mercedes hit .289/.362/.478 with 14 home runs and 64 RBIs. The plucky catcher zoomed upward in 2019, starting the season in Double-A Birmingham and mashing his way up to Charlotte, combining to hit .317/.388/.581 with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs and being protected on the 40-man roster for the White Sox as a result.
Mercedes destroyed spring training in 2020, getting off to a killer start and capturing the hearts of White Sox fans. The catcher was doubly entertaining on social media, with several confident posts celebrating big hits and telling fans he was looking forward to seeing them in Chicago!
Then the pandemic paused everything, and Mercedes’ scintillating spring could have gone to waste.
But after spending a month in Summer Camp and at the alternate site in Schaumburg last summer, Mercedes kept his momentum going and got the call to the majors on Aug. 1, 2020.
He pinch-hit in his first and only appearance, and grounded out.
Mercedes’ storybook climb could have ended there, in a Moonlight Graham sniff of the majors that came and went in a heartbeat. But Yermín was determined to get back to the White Sox, and do some damage.
That brings us to present day. On March 29, 2021, it was announced that Jonathan Lucroy was released, making room for Mercedes and Zack Collins to make the Opening Day roster as backup catchers/DHs. With 50 plate appearances during spring training, Mercedes hit .283/.340/.348 with three doubles.
On April 3, Mercedes became the first player in White Sox history and only the second player in the modern era to have five hits during his first career start. Prior to Mercedes’ historical start, Cecil Travis was the last to do so on May 16, 1933 (Travis went 5-for-7 in his game).
Yermin Mercedes spray chart tonight... 5 for 5! Incredible! pic.twitter.com/DYoGWr9uzn— Daren Willman (@darenw) April 3, 2021
As he made it to first base after his first hit, veteran Albert Pujols told Mercedes there were many more hits coming for him, and playfully flipped the ball to his chest.
Loved this. Yermin Mercedes picks up his first big-league knock. Albert Pujols, with 3,236 hits on his HOF baseball card, flips him the ball and gives him some love. pic.twitter.com/cY7CENRxIc— Stephen Nelson (@StephenNelson) April 3, 2021
Tony La Russa called Mercedes’ performance “historic” while observing that “most of it was outstanding pieces of hitting, deep in the count.”
Mercedes was nothing but positive during the postgame interviews, reflecting on the last 11 years.
“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 [been] a long time. It’s a long time. I passed [through] everything. 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.’
“Because 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.
“But the time is now, the opportunity is now. Just keep working hard, keep the head up, trust in God.”
Only time will tell how Mercedes will do on this 2021 White Sox team, but I have a good feeling he’s proved himself worthy to La Russa and has earned a permanent spot. Perhaps he’ll even collect some postseason awards.
One thing is for sure though, and that is that Mercedes is carving out a bigger role on the 2021 White Sox with each passing day.