White Sox hero Yermin Mercedes demoted to the minors

Slumping badly and unable to keep up his fast start, once Rookie of the Year lock Yermin Mercedes is being sent back to the minors

Two months ago, he was Major League Baseball’s folk hero, a rising star who came from nowhere to take over the league. Now Yermin Mercedes is heading back to where his journey began, the minor leagues.

The Chicago White Sox demoted the struggling Mercedes to Triple-A Charlotte on Friday, ending his fairytale ride in the Majors at least for now. Jake Burger, the club’s 11th-ranked prospect and a first-round pick in 2017, is being called up in his place to make his MLB debut.

Mercedes waited nearly a decade to get his shot in the big leagues, playing 748 games across three organizations in either the minors or foreign leagues from 2011. Along the way, he played games in the Dominican Republic and even a team named the Pupfish in the independent Pecos League. The White Sox finally gave him his opportunity in 2020 at the age of 27.

But it was in 2021, when injuries allowed him to make the White Sox Opening Day roster as the third catcher, that he became a star. He went 5-5 in his first start on April 2, becoming the first to pull off that feat since 1933. He became the first player in MLB history to begin a season with hits in his first eight at-bats. His eight hits in his first three career games tied Delmon Young and Ian Desmond for most in the Divisional Era. By the middle of May, he was hitting .364, the highest average in the league.

Mercedes fell victim to baseball’s unwritten rules

Then came May 17. With the White Sox blowing out the Minnesota Twins 15-4 in the ninth inning and position player Willians Astudillo on the mound, Mercedes swung at a 3-0 pitch and hit it 429 feet over the wall in center field. He was doing what he was supposed to do: produce runs for his club. But that’s not how his own manager, Tony La Russa, saw it.

La Russa called out his star slugger after the game for violating the league’s so-called “unwritten rules.” Mercedes had displayed poor sportsmanship, the 76-year-old La Russa said, and tried to show up the Twins. La Russa even stated he would be fine if the Twins intentionally threw at Mercedes in the next game.

“He made a mistake. There will be a consequence he has to endure here within our family,” La Russa said. “The fact that he’s a rookie and excited helps explain why he just was clueless. But now he’s got a clue.”

The criticism and revelation that his manager didn’t have his back sent Mercedes into a tailspin. He has just one home run in 123 plate appearances since May 17 and is batting .162 over that span, the worst in the league. His .207 slugging percentage is nearly 60 points lower than any other player in the league. In June, Mercedes batted .159 with only two extra-base hits in 18 games, although he had hit safely in three of his last four games.

Thus his meteoric rise ends, just two months later, with a Friday afternoon press release. Mercedes will get a chance in Charlotte to regain the form he showed at the beginning of the season.

It’s now just a distant memory, but it was fun while it lasted.