Developments I looked for in 2018
1) Improve his secondary offerings to not be so fastball dependent
2) Improve fastball command so that he can get ahead of hitters more frequently
Mekkes proved that the deception created by his motion and the extension created by his 6'7" 250 pound frame as he drives off the mound is as effective against upper level hitters as it was against less advanced hitters. He remained incredibly productive in numerous roles, from multi-inning outings, to setup, to closing. His numbers remained as incredible as ever, but that does not mean that Mekkes plateaued in any way. He made strides with both of his secondary pitches while making some adjustments in his fastball approach (and even added a little velocity as a bonus).
Mekkes usually sits around 91-92 with his four-seam fastball, but discovered a new gear with it this season, and is now capable of running it up to 94-95 when necessary. Those numbers may not sound overwhelming, but because of how hard he pushes off the rubber and how close he is to the hitters when he releases the ball, the perceived velocity from their end is undoubtedly in the upper-90s and very difficult to handle. Mekkes has and elongated delivery which hides the ball well, especially from righthanded hitters, making him not just difficult to time but adding in a layer of deception as well. Mekkes will occasionally still mix in a middling two-seamer (88-90) but he has leaned more heavily on the four-seamer in 2018, to his benefit.
Maples isn't only dominant reliever in Iowa. Dakota Mekkes, holder of a career 1.06 ERA and .153 avg against, was recently promoted from AA. While Maples uses wicked breaking stuff, Mekkes uses elite extension and deception on FB. Check out the late swings even at 91-94 on gun: pic.twitter.com/m9meNWgnj0
— Michael Ernst (@mj_ernst) June 11, 2018
The most exciting developments during the 2018 season were the improved command with all of his offerings and also the step forward he made with his changeup. It is now a Major League caliber pitch (probably still a notch below average) with better arm speed and nice separation (8-10 mph) from his fastball. It isn't a world beater but it gives him another option to keep hitters honest and adds another layer of deception that hitters must unravel in order to barrel him up.
As effective as his FB is, it was important to see Mekkes make progress with his secondaries in 2018. His changeup now shows better arm speed and separation (8-10 MPH off his FB) with some arm side fade. Consistency and command still waver but rarely misses in heart of the plate. pic.twitter.com/eRFYk800e7
— Michael Ernst (@mj_ernst) October 20, 2018
His slider is a bit unusual because it comes in a few mph slower (77-80) than a typical pitch of its kind. He does get some whiffs off he pitch, but Mekkes does not command it as well as his others, and there were games where it was ineffective. When he does have all three pitches working in unison opposing hitters have no chance.
The high walk rates can be troubling at times, but he never completely loses the strike zone the way Maples and some other relievers are prone to do. He tends to miss down or up and to his arm side but it is usually only for a couple of pitches at a time.
I've believed for quite some time that many national publications have been sleeping on Dakota Mekkes. While I do not expect him to continue posting such minuscule ERAs at the MLB level, he will be an effective reliever. He provides versatility to thrive in a number of roles, and I fully expect him to carve out career similar to Steve Cishek, as someone that can serve as a difficult platoon matchup, multi-inning middle relief, primary setup man and occasional closer.
The final four outs showcases his ability to mix pitches and change locations to generate weak contact. First, uses a CH low and away to a RHB to induce a pop up. The next inning he gets in on the hands of a RHB w/2FB, then in on a LHB w/4FB, final out w/4FB low and away to LHB pic.twitter.com/PsmX1FtrCk
— Michael Ernst (@mj_ernst) October 20, 2018
He may not begin the 2019 season on the Cubs 40-man roster, but assuming he stays healthy, Mekkes will earn his way onto not only the 40, but 25-man roster by the end of the year. There is nothing left for Mekkes to prove at the Minor League level. That is not to say that he is a finished product. He can still improve his overall command and the consistency of his breaking ball, but neither of those issues should hold him back from receiving his first big league audition. I also do not feel it will prevent him from succeeding once he receives it either.