With all the attention given to a plethora of elite prospects added to the White Sox system in the past year, it’s easy to miss some really good stories swimming in the deeper waters. Some of those prospects even have a chance to turn into keepers before anyone really notices.
Unless you’re neck-deep in the Sox farm system, you probably haven’t heard much (if anything) about Danny Mendick. Drafted in the 22nd round in 2015 and relegated to a sort of organization-wide utility role last year, the New York native wasn’t showing up on any top prospect lists. Guys who play part time mostly in A-ball with his pedigree generally don’t garner much attention. That’s a position he is familiar with.
“When I was younger, it seemed like no one thought it was going to pan out for me. But I’ve just kept grinding it out, and lately things have started to fall my way.”
In that second sentence, Mendick is referring to his 2017 season, which has been a revelation. Not only has he played his way into a full time job, he put up some very good numbers in High-A this year while playing premium defensive positions and he is now a younger than average 23-year-old in AA. He’s shown above average contact rates (13.9% K/PA this year across both levels), draws walks at a 10.6% clip, uses his speed on the basepaths (12 SB in 16 ATT this year), and has even shown some power with 10 long balls in 116 games. He does a lot of things well at the plate, doesn’t have any one stand-out offensive tool but also doesn’t show any glaring weaknesses.
Defensively, Mendick displays smooth actions and plenty of arm for the whole infield. Both a scout and a coach I spoke with feel he can handle any infield position at least competently, and he shows above average footwork and hands. Shortstop is his native position and that’s where he says he is most comfortable, but he also has come to love playing second and third.
Danny is a sharp kid who talks a mile a minute, like every good New Yorker does. He prefers that level of intensity on the field as well. Our own Kim Contreras got to see him play a number of times in his pro debut with the rookie level AZL White Sox, who won the league championship that year. Two years later when I told her I was writing a feature on Danny Mendick, she clearly recalled the inning that cemented her view of him:
“[it was] the first of three single-elimination games that would lead to the title. Danny led off with a single, then using his stellar base running acumen and speed went from first to third on a sacrifice bunt… Corey Zangari came to bat. Danny was halfway down the line when Corey lined one to deep left-center. I think the only way the smile on Mendick’s face as he crossed home plate could have been bigger is if he’d been able to slide and get his uniform covered in even more dirt. That’s how Danny plays.”
Mendick’s smile and high octane approach are there for all to see, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have his doubts at times before 2017.
“I doubted it, gave it some thought at times” said Mendick when asked if he ever wondered if it was going to happen for him during that tough 2016 season. “There’s times I didn’t play for what seemed like a week. If you’re a guy who’s just there to fill a roster spot, it can be hard hard to get up for a game. But you have to keep grinding and be ready, so when opportunity shows up, you’re ready.”
Not only has this 5’10” infielder been given a starting role and a promotion, but the opportunities look to continue as he has been added to the Arizona Fall League. The fact that the club is putting him in the prospect showcase is strong indication they see a potential major leaguer.
While Mendick has seemingly escaped the org-wide utility infielder role (He changed teams 12 times in 2016), a utility role remains his likely future should he reach the majors. It wasn’t a role he knew he’d be taking going into 2016, but the writing seemed to be on the wall as the season wore on. “In the offseason I told myself, I need to find a way to be a utility guy, and find a way to help the team that way.” He seems to enjoy playing all the infield positions, but he also shags balls in the outfield during batting practice – just in case.
It’s good fortune then, that he he played his first four months this year under Willie Harris, who manages the Winston-Salem Dash. Harris was taken in the 24th round in 1999, played nearly every position on the field during his time in the minors, yet managed to carve out a major league career that spanned 12 seasons. Harris and Mendick seem to be kindred spirits.
“Willie Harris changed my game completely. I went from a passive player to an aggressive one. Willie says, ‘never let anyone punk you’, and to always stay on the ball. He was just a great mentor for me. He taught me a lot.”
After that quote, I mentioned Harris’ scoring the winning run in Game 4 of the 2005 World Series for the White Sox coming off the bench, which apparently Danny is well aware of. “Oh yeah, Willie always lets us know about that.”
The Southern League has represented a challenge for Mendick. He’s still making contact and hitting home runs at similar rates, but the hits don’t fall as easily and the pitchers are more refined. “They throw hard, but more so they have better command and they have a plan. Pitches are on the black away or black in. You don’t get many good pitches, so if you miss yours you’re toast.”
His hitting coach in Birmingham, Cole Armstrong, doesn’t seem worried. “He’s had some tough luck,” he said of the on-field hitting results so far. “His average is not what I’m sure he’d like it to be yet, but he’s hit the ball hard at some people. We had a sit-down the other day, and just told him to keep at it, it will come.” A .219 BABIP at the level further hints at some poor luck thus far.
In fact he’s got a lot of people he says have helped him along the way, continue to do so, and give him confidence he’ll get adjusted in short order. Even in his childhood, he got help from Dave Parlet, a former scout with the Cubs, who helped him build his early hitting mechanics. His hitting coach in Winston-Salem, Charlie Poe, helped mold him into the hitter he is today. White Sox Hitting Coordinator Mike Gellinger makes a point to spend time with Mendick whenever he’s in town, and according to Danny, “He always has something positive to say. And if he sees an issue, whatever he asks me to change a bit, it always seems to work.” Mendick talks effusively about the player development staff he’s working with and the improvements he has made with their help.
It could all have been a lot different. Strong defensive credentials from his college play at UMass-Lowell almost put Mendick on the other side of town. Prior to the 2015 draft, in his words, “I thought it would be the Cubs. I talked with their scout, and they even called me early in the [third draft] day, told me to keep an eye out. So I kept watching the Cubs picks, then all of a sudden it was the White Sox.” There’s no telling what his path would have been with the North Siders, but he’s on a good track now.
The Barons still have a handful of games to finish, then it’s on to Arizona for Danny. There he’s going to face some very tough arms, but also get some time in the spotlight. He won’t be the guy getting the most attention there, but that’s a position he’s familiar with.
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