Evan Mendoza came seemingly out of nowhere (or maybe out of the bullpen since he was a converted pitcher?) to secure the third base job for NC State in 2016. I don’t know if it was more surprising that he handled the hot corner like a gold glover from day one, or that he sprayed line drives to all fields en route to a .362 batting average that far and away led the club. Dude was supposed to be a pitcher.
Mendoza slumped a good bit in 2017, hitting exactly 100 points lower, though he did continue to show excellent defense, cut down on what was already a low strikeout rate, and hit for a bit more power. The Saint Louis Cardinals were impressed enough to spend an 11th round pick and 150K on him to make sure he didn’t return to Raleigh for his senior season.
The Cards apparently have an eye for Pack talent. Like Andrew Knizner, who is already destroying AA after being plucked by the birds a year earlier, Mendoza is looking to be a fast riser in the Saint Louis system. After just 41 games at State College, Mendoza has been promoted to full-season A ball at Peoria of the Midwest League.
At State College, an affiliate in the short-season New York-Penn League, Mendoza outdid his 2016 performance at NC State, batting a ridiculous .370 in 162 ABs. Upon his promotion, Mendoza was leading the league in average and OPS (.980). His .449 batting average on balls in play is definitely not sustainable, but if he can continue to post line drive rates near 30% (29.8, to be exact), Mendoza will find himself on a lot of Cards’ top prospect lists soon. A low K% (18.1) and respectable BB% (8.8) bode well for his future as well.
And of course there’s the glove: Mendoza has made just four errors in 142 chances in his pro career for a .972 fielding percentage. To put that in context, Brooks Robinson had a career fielding percentage of .971 and he’s considered the GOAT at 3B. If Mendoza made it to The Show and posted a .972 percentage for is career, it would be the third best in MLB history. And as those of us who’ve watched a lot of Pack baseball know, Mendoza isn’t just sure-handed, he can make the spectacular plays too.
Mendoza is having a tough adjustment at Peoria, where he has just three hits in 21 ABs, though that sample is so small as to be useless. Knizner, who’s now hitting .338 in AA, struggled for a week or so after his promotion as well. I’m betting Mendoza adjusts and finishes the season strong.