Dakota Mekkes Continues His Incredible Run

As fans of the Cubs' minor league system may know, 6-foot-7 reliever Dakota Mekkes was not hard to miss on the field. Yet Mekkes did not land a scholarship at Michigan State University. But on a recruiting meeting with legendary basketball coach Tom Izzo, Mekkes was able take away something that stays with him to this day. “Izzo talked to Dakota about how, just because Dakota would be a walk-on at Michigan State, it wouldn't mean that he couldn't make an impact,” said Myrtle Beach Pelicans play-by-play announcer Scott Kornberg. “I think that's the perfect microcosm for his career. Mekkes has been underestimated a lot, and yet, everywhere he goes, he dominates.”

Selected in the tenth round of the 2106 draft, the 22 year old is currently on one of the most impressive runs of any player selected by the current Cubs front office. In 32 appearances between the South Bend Cubs and the Pelicans, Mekkes has seven saves to go along with a 5-0 record. He’s only allowed two earned runs (four runs overall) in 55.1 innings for a remarkable 0.33 ERA. Pair that with a 0.922 WHIP and 75 strikeouts, and you have a dominating season.

Mekkes credits his father as being one of the biggest influences on his career. “My dad was the one who got me started playing baseball as a kid and was my coach a lot of my years in little league,” said Mekkes. The big righty also cited Bryan Baar, who runs Western Michigan Elite. “I trained and played summer ball there all through high school. He got me into a program that strengthens your legs, shoulders and lower back called CSTs. That got me from throwing 83 to 90 in three months.”

His family was also a big influence on where his early baseball loyalties and professional role models. “I have always been a big Yankees fan. My Dad and Grandpa are life-long Yankees fans and I was kind of born into it,” stated Mekkes. “If I had to try and compare myself, I'd say I'm kind of similar to Michael Pineda because he's also a big guy and uses mostly a fastball and slider. We both also kind of struggle with the walks.”

Part of the reason for the success of Mekkes is an unusual delivery for a big man. His long stride and crouch makes it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand. “I've kind of thrown this way as long as I could remember,” said Mekkes. “I know I don't really use my height to my advantage by dropping down, but I feel like I use my length to my full advantage by getting full extension and trying to release the ball as close to home as I can.”

Kornberg agrees. “He doesn't throw hard. But at the same time, he's so big and he has such a big stride that he's just really difficult to pick up. So at 90-92 MPH, Mekkes actually is perceived to be 94-96 MPH probably, minimum, to a hitter.”

Despite his successes, there is still an adjustment in going from Low-A South Bend to Advanced-A Myrtle Beach. “I think the biggest difference I've noticed is that hitters don't miss mistake pitches” explained Mekkes. “In South Bend, I might have been able to get away with missing a spot or two. But in Myrtle Beach, missed spots are hits!”

It’s all part of the learning process Mekkes has absorbed in his first full year of professional baseball. “One thing that I learned early is that you have to be ready to go every day, whether I was going to pitch that day or not. I learned very quickly that you need to find a way to take something to improve upon every day. As the saying goes, if you're not getting better you're getting worse.”

When asked about any memories of his time in South Bend, Mekkes was not hesitant. “My favorite memory is probably the 19 inning game we had that had to be continued the next day. I was sitting in the bullpen for all 18 innings in the freezing cold until 1 in the morning. It was definitely a night I won't forget!”

Hopefully, the momentary cold will not be the only memory Mekkes has of one hot season.

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  • Really nice piece, Tom. Mekkes is really an interesting prospect isn't he?

  • In reply to TC154:

    Tom hit on the keys. Mekkes has both deception and due to his long stride and long arms possesses a marked increase in perceived velo compared to his radar gun readings. He is very unique in that way. His slider is also a pretty good pitch.

    He does need to improve his command/control though. Mekkes mentioned that he is already getting away with fewer mistakes. That will only accelerate as he progresses up the ladder. At the very least he needs to significantly cut his walk rate (about 11%).

  • In reply to TC154:

    Thank you! This interview was conducted entirely on Twitter. Dakota Mekkes was on a bus ride to Myrtle Beach's next opponent, and was kind enough to spend some time answering questions.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Thanks! I have to credit Chris Hagstrom-Jones of South Bend and Scott Kornberg from Myrtle Beach to help orchestrate this interview.

  • I thought he should be moved to AA when Maples went to AAA. He has been as dominant as any reliever. Time to challenge him more.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I think he'll get there before the season ends. If Dylan Floro doesn't clear waivers or elects FA (he can, since he has been outrighted before) there may be additional movement up from Tennessee to Iowa (although Grimm moving down relieves some of that).

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    In reply to rbrucato:

    I agree. Move him up. A taste of AA this year might give him a shot at the bigs in 2018.

  • Michael. how does his stuff compare to Craig Brooks? Does he have the nasty slider Brooks does?

  • In reply to KJRyno:

    Brooks has a better slider and better true velo, but the deception and delivery puts Mekkes's fastball on par in my opinion. Brooks has separation with his slider though. Both have command and control issues though. The one thing that has seemed to separate Mekkes from Brooks right now though is that when Mekkes struggles it hasn't translated into big innings for the opposition. Brooks can give up some big innings and really lose the strike zone at times.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Thanks. I will say that I think Brooks has been developed great. In his last 10 outings since the first of July, he has only walked 3 and struck out 25. Might have been trying to do too much his first couple outtings at AA or else a pitching coach there spotted something and got it corrected fast. Since then, I think they have him settled in nicely.

  • In reply to KJRyno:

    Brooks has always had control issues. Even in some of his good outings you will see him throw some 58 footers. If he can dial it in his ceiling is higher than Mekkes, but Mekkes has the higher floor.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I included Mekkes in my midseason top prospect list while Brooks fell just outside. The separator for me with Mekkes and the other relief prospects the Cubs possess (outside of Maples who is a clear #1) is that Mekkes will have deception in every outing. While he struggles with the same inconsistencies commanding his pitches that Rosario, Brooks, Johnson, Pena and others do he will always have that one fallback that the others will not. He will induce some weak contact, even on mistakes, that others will not as a result of his delivery. He releases the ball several inches closer to home plate than any other pitcher in the system which messes with a hitters timing.

  • I'm excited about the pitching depth in the minors. It seems like there is a lot of guys that can help out the BP. Considering the Cubs have given up Torres, McKinney, Warren, Soler, Candelario, & Paredes over the past 2 seasons for BP help, I'm hoping this can stabilize it so we won't have to dip into our prospects further & start rebuilding the farm for the future

  • In reply to Bamacub:

    At this point about 2/3 of any Cubs prospect list you look at will be pitchers.

    I haven't seen Little or Lange yet, but if I take their collegiate scouting reports at face value I would probably consider the club's top six prospects to all be pitchers: Albertos, De La Cruz, Alzolay, Hatch, Little, Lange in whatever order you prefer.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Crazy that guys such as Underwood, Tseng & Johnson aren't even in the top ten, but just a couple 2, 3 years ago they were looked at as the future... I'm hoping 2 outta those 3 can contribute or be trade sweeteners.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    I'm still higher on Underwood than most. His production has not been consistent this season but I am very encouraged by the fact that he has at the very least been able to stay on the mound all season. I think he can use this year as a spring board to greater things next season. Ultimately he may still end up in the pen, but the book is far from closed on him imo.

    Tseng is developing nicely. He has gotten stronger and answered stamina concerns I once held. His fastball is fringy. It will likely make or break his future. If he can master his command of it I feel he can still be a solid BOR option and will provide depth for the club next season in the Iowa rotation.

    Johnson still has the stuff. I was never enamored with him or his command and consistency, but there is absolutely still MLB talent there. He can still contribute as a bullpen piece at some point. Command issues may limit him to middle innings though.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Yeah, I like how Tseng has sort of been rejuvenated if you will. But those 3 guys were once considered top ten Cub prospects.

    Theo & Jed are geniuses....
    Look at their top 3 now. De La Cruz, Albertos & Alzolay are all IFA signings. Then look at who they've traded... Torres (& others) for Chapman, Soler for Davis, Eloy (& others) for Quintana, & then Candelario (Hendry signing) & Paredes for Wilson & Avila. They've used & played the International player market like a world reknown musician playing their violin. Incredible & they still have more bullets as some of them develop. Add EJ Martinez, Tseng & Ademan & Galindo... Crazy good on the foreign scouting.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Agreed, the IFA scouting has been incredible. It helps to have one of the higher budgets like the Cubs do, but their hit rate has been extremely high. Very few high bonus signings have failed to progress.

  • I had never heard of this kid......this is why what you guys do is so invaluable.

  • Tom thanks for the great articles just one correction Mekkes was drafted in 2016.

    The Cubs have tapped MSU the past 2 drafts for some solid under the radar mid-round draft pick ups as Brandon Hughes has looked good playing outfield for Eugene.

  • In reply to CubFanStuckInStl:

    Thanks for spotting that. I have since corrected the piece.

  • Wish I could be as high on Mekkes' long term health, but that photo looks like knee, back, and elbow problems in his future.

    I hope I'm wrong.

  • In reply to Senator Blutarski:

    TINSTAAPP

  • Great season. And he's not listed in the MLB's Top 30 Cubs Prospects.

  • With the inherent randomness of baseball, 2 earned runs in 55 innings is just amazing, no matter the pitcher or level.

  • Thank you to Myles and everyone here at Cubs Den for allowing me the honor to have this post after such a tragic loss.

    I think John would be glad we are all back to talking baseball, especially about Cubs' prospects. John was a dear colleague who I shared a lot with over the years. I will miss him greatly.

  • Tom. Is Dakota Mekkes more similar to Joe Smith, Brad Ziegler or Kent Tekulve? or someone else? Thanks

  • In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    I don't think Mekkes compares with any of those pitchers. While Mekkes' style is unorthodox for a pitcher so tall, but not unusual.

    Tall pitchers usually stand upright and come over the top with their delivery, creating a downward plane that causes the batter to adjust his eye level. Mekkes pitches more like a shorter pitcher or one that does not have great velocity. A big stride and bending your back puts your whole body behind the throw, maximizing your velocity. Mekkes' height is an added advantage in that he is releasing the ball closer to home plate than most other pitchers.

  • Nice piece, but it looks like you jinxed Mekkes (L today for MB giving up 4 hits and 3 ER in 1.2 innings bumping his ERA all the way up to 1.04). Maybe you can do a piece on how Joe Martarano is struggling to find his groove after his lay off from baseball while playing football at Boise State. It would be a great story to get him turned around..

  • In reply to CubsFaninNC:

    An interesting idea for when I next visit South Bend.

    I will take the rap for Mekkes' poor outing. But to set the record straight, Zack Short broke an 0-fer to start the season after interviewing with me, Duncan Robinson and Roberto Caro were promoted, and Andruw Monasterio became a starter and had an 18 game on-base streak all after interviews.

  • In reply to Tom U:

    But what have you done for me lately?

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Just being the best reporter I can be.

  • In reply to Tom U:

    I like it! Keep up your player development role!

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