Phillies 2024 Season Preview: RHP Michael Mercado

With very little projected playing time for the young right-hander, it will be crucial for Mercado to make his mark in limited opportunities.
Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day
Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day / Julio Aguilar/GettyImages

The next entry in our Philadelphia Phillies 2024 Season Preview series is reliever Michael Mercado.

Previous season previews: José AlvaradoAndrew BellattiAlec BohmConnor BrogdonNick CastellanosRodolfo CastroKody ClemensJake CaveDylan CoveySeranthony DomínguezKolby AllardBryce HarperJeff HoffmanOrion Kerkering, Rafael Marchán, Brandon Marsh, Yunior Marte, Diego Castillo

We'll start with a brief look at Mercado's 2023 performance and then see where he might end up this season using the Steamer and ZiPS projection systems, which can be found on FanGraphs.

Michael Mercado 2023 stats and 2024 projections

2023 Stats (AA, AAA): 52 G, 62 IP, 4-3 record, 4.79 ERA, 3.85 FIP (AA), 5.36 FIP (AAA), 1.34 WHIP, 95 SO, 35 BB

2024 Steamer: 8 G, 8 IP, 0-0 record, 4.52 ERA, 4.76 FIP, 1.34 WHIP, 8 SO, 3 BB, 0.0 WAR

2024 ZiPS DC: 8 G, 8 IP, 0-0 record, 5.01 ERA, 4.81 FIP, 1.46 WHIP, 8 SO, 4 BB, 0.0 WAR

Michael Mercado 2024 season preview

Michael Mercado, 24, was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017 and has spent the last seven years within their minor league ranks. He was acquired in trade by the Phillies in November.

Drafted as a starting pitcher, Mercado slid into a bullpen role in 2023 after missing two consecutive seasons in 2019 and 2020 due to Tommy John surgery and COVID. Without very much success in the following seasons, the Rays thought a move to the bullpen would work best.

The 6-foot-4 right-hander projects well out of the bullpen, which is shown by his 15.72 K/9 in Double-A and 12.71 K/9 in Triple-A. Unfortunately, he also had a high 5.24 BB/9 across both levels. The San Diego native and former second round selection is hoping that a change of scenery will allow him to catch on and earn a spot on a major league roster.

As a young pitcher with plenty of minor league options available, Mercado may find himself contributing for the Phillies during the dog days of the summer.

Minimal playing time projected for Mercado in 2024

Mercado is set to begin the 2024 campaign in the minor leagues, but is projected to find some time out of the Phillies bullpen. As it is with any major league team, the Phillies bullpen can be a revolving door for young players to come up and try to make their case to stick around.

Both projections have Mercado slated for eight major league games, pitching an inning per game, which is a difference between his early career as a starting pitcher and even last season when he pitched 62 innings across 52 games, going multiple innings several times.

The projections also foresee only about a strikeout per inning, which equates to a far lower 9.00 K/9 than he has posted in previous years. This is troublesome, seeing that ZiPS DC has Mercado projected around a 1.46 WHIP next season.

Projected for only one hold and no saves throughout the course of the season, it seems that Mercado's impact will be insignificant. His role will be similar to that of Luis Ortiz or Nick Nelson in 2023.

Mercado has weapons that could lead to success in the future

A big reason for his struggles last season was his jump in fly ball rate. Mercado's ground ball percentage dropped seven percent from 2022, leading his HR/9 to eclipse 2.00. When a ball was hit off Mercado in the air in 2023, over 19 percent of the time, it ended up a home run. The long-time Rays prospect is definitely still just that, a project.

If the 24-year-old can get more command of his pitches, he has the stuff to succeed. Mercado's fastball lives between 93 and 96 mph and can touch up to 98. Mercado also has a very effective curveball that can punch batters out, pointing toward his 40.6 strikeout percentage in Double-A last year for the Montgomery Biscuits. He has also recently added a cutter to his repertoire to keep hitters off balance.

If Mercado can continue striking out hitters at a high clip and can keep the walks down, he could find success in the Phillies bullpen. Top-level teams are always looking for diamonds in the rough to squeeze every ounce of talent out of.

While Mercado's projections have little time in the MLB, injuries, poor performance, or accelerated development from a new coaching staff could boost him into a long-relief/innings-eater-type role for the Phillies in 2024. A young, controllable arm that is flexible is a great asset to have for any ball club.