Braves NRI In-Depth: Ernesto Mejia

Ernesto Mejia had a record setting year for Mississippi in 2011.

Ernesto Mejia had the best season of his career in 2011, setting single season records for AA Mississippi in hits (148), homers (26), and RBI (99), while hitting .297 with a .906 OPS and 37 doubles in 573 plate appearances. He kept on hitting for Aguilas de Zulia in the Venezuelan Winter League, with a .282 average, .887 OPS, 20 doubles, 10 homers, and 49 RBI in 227 at bats.

The Braves originally signed Mejia out of his native Venezuela and he began his career as an outfielder before his massive size and bulk, listed at 6'5", 245 pounds, forced the team to move him to first base. He had a great year as a 22 year old for High A Myrtle Beach in 2008, hitting .274 with a .829 OPS, 47 doubles, 21 homers, and 93 RBI, but a severe knee injury limited him to just 36 games in 2009. After that season he left the organization, signing a Minor League contract with the Kansas City Royals, splitting 2010 between High A and AA, hitting .276 with a .805 OPS, 31 doubles, 16 homers, and 69 RBI in 481 plate appearances. The Braves brought him back on a Minor League contract prior to the 2011 season, and have now done the same for the 2012 season, this time with a Non Roster invitation to Spring Training to boot.

Now 26 years old, Mejia is a formidable, experienced slugger, though he's never played above AA. That should change this year, as he's penciled in to be AAA Gwinnett's first baseman. His invitation to Major League Spring Training is more of a reward for his 2011 season than an indication that he has any chance to make Atlanta's roster, though a strong showing could put him in line for a call up should injuries strike. Defensively, he's limited to first base, and on his best days he's only an average defender. At the plate, he's something of a boom or bust hitter, prone to the extra base hit or the strikeout, and for all his skill, he' not that adept at talking walks, walking in just 10% of his plate appearances last year and just 7% for his career. If given a chance, Mejia could be a useful power bat off Atlanta's bench, and occasional starter at first base against tough lefties, though his defensive limitations make it unlikely he'll be given that chance.

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