After nine-plus seasons toiling in the minors as a member of the Braves and Royals organizations, slugging first baseman Ernesto Mejía has been granted his release from the organization to purse an opportunity to play for the Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball after the Braves reached an agreement with the Japanese club.
The big, burly 28-year-old Venezuelan has been known for his prodigious raw power since signing with the Braves out of Venezuela in 2002. He made his stateside debut for the Gulf Coast League Braves in 2005, slowly climbing his way up the organizational ladder (with a brief reprieve as a member of the Royals' organization in 2010), before making the Braves' 40-man roster in November 2012. Mejía has been a member of the middle of the order for Gwinnett, Atlanta's triple-A affiliate, since 2012 while playing first base. He was off to a hot start in the International League this season, slashing .354/.420/.684 with 7 home runs in 88 plate appearances.
Questions will be raised about why the Braves didn't attempt to ship Mejía to another MLB organization, perhaps in the American League, in an attempt to accrue other organizational talent. David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that, while the Braves did attempt to move Mejía, there simply wasn't much interest from other clubs.
Mejia will report to Seibu team next week. There wasn't a spot for 1B w/ big-league #Braves, didn't draw much trade interest from MLB teams— David O'Brien (@ajcbraves) April 26, 2014
Realistically, Mejía wasn't ever likely to fulfill an important role for the Braves' big league club. Although Mejía certainly has legitimate raw power from the right side (he slugged 59 homers in 287 games for Gwinnett over the past three seasons, despite major strikeout troubles), he simply had little utility due to his rudimentary defensive skill set, propensity to strike out, and the simple fact that Freddie Freeman and Joey Terdoslavich were blocking any shot that Mejía might've had to play in Atlanta.
This move makes sense for both sides, as Mejía will have an opportunity to make significantly more money in Japan and play in one of the world's top professional leagues. For Atlanta, Mejía's release frees up a spot on the 40-man roster, which could be useful as Jonny Venters makes his way back from Tommy John surgery and should presumably be activated from the 60-day disabled list in the near future. In terms of the move that the impact will have on Gwinnett, it appears that former Cardinals farmhand Mark Hamilton and Terdoslavich are candidates to get playing time at first in triple-A. There may be other corresponding roster moves made as a result of Mejía's release, so we'll keep you update if and when they occur.
It's a little sad to see Mejía go, as his power was impressive and fun to watch, but this transaction should serve to benefit both sides in the long run, as there simply wasn't a fit for Mejía in Atlanta. We certainly wish Ernesto the best of luck as he begins a new career in Japan next week, and hope that he succeeds in his new role as a Seibu Lion.