Climbing the hill in this episode of C’s Chat is 2022 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Abdiel Mendoza.
The righthander from Panama is hoping the third time is the charm as the Toronto Blue Jays represent the third organization he has been with since beginning his pro career at the age of 16. Mendoza signed with the Oakland Athletics as an international free agent on July 2, 2015.
Mendoza joined the Dominican Summer League A’s in 2016 and launched his career with a perfect inning that included a strikeout against the DSL Red Sox on June 4. He got his first win with two punchouts over two spotless frames against the DSL Marlins on July 13. His second and third wins against the DSL Phillies on August 2 and the DSL Red Sox on August 11 were the highlights of a 0.00 earned run average in August which saw Mendoza work 11-2/3 innings. If you add in the three goose eggs against the DSL Red Sox on July 26, he ended the year with seven scoreless appearances. That allowed Mendoza to finish up with a 3-1 record, a 2.32 ERA, three holds and 25 strikeouts in 31 innings.
Mendoza’s American debut came in 2017 when he got a spot start for Beloit on June 10 but spent the rest of the year back at the short-season level with the Vermont Lake Monsters. He found his stride by getting a win after limiting host Lowell to one run over five innings on July 2. His next start on July 7 was even better as he blanked Hudson Valley with seven shutout innings of four-hit ball while whiffing seven and walking nobody. Unfortunately for Mendoza, he did not get the win as his team waited until the bottom of the 15th to score the only run of the game. He did get the win his next time out at Staten Island on July 13. He once again allowed just four baserunners (three hits and one walk) over seven shutout innings while striking out five. His final totals for the Lake Monsters were a 3.82 ERA and a 1.10 walks-hits-innings pitched mark over 30-2/3 innings.
The 2018 season saw Mendoza return to Vermont where he endured a tough June but began to get back on the beam with six shutout innings to earn the win against the Tri-City ValleyCats on July 3. He shaved down his ERA from 7.84 to 3.32 by posting sub-2.00 ERAs in July and August. The Texas Rangers were paying attention as they acquired Mendoza and fellow righty Teodoro Ortega from the Oakland A”s for reliever Corry Gearrin at the trade deadline on August 31.
Baseball America provided a scouting report on Mendoza after the trade.
“Mendoza is more refined but also less projectable than Ortega. A short (5-foot-10) righthander, Mendoza sits 88-93 mph with feel for spinning a promising curveball and he shows some feel for a developing changeup. Mendoza was in his second stint with short-season Vermont, where he was 2-3, 3.32 with 41 strikeouts in 57 innings, largely as a starter.”
Originally assigned to the Spokane Indians, Mendoza made his Rangers organizational debut with the Hickory Crawdads instead. After beginning 2017 at High-A, he ended 2018 at the same level as he spun three shutout innings against Greensboro on September 2.
The Hickory bullpen was Mendoza’s starting point in 2019 and he would collect his first two saves in his first two appearances of the season. He threw three shutout innings with three strikeouts in Lakewood on April 4 and followed up by sitting down all six hitters he faced, two by strikeout, in Greensboro on April 10. After 17 appearances in the Crawdads pen, Mendoza joined the starting rotation in late July 23 and made eight starts. Despite his first trip to the seven-day injured list in late Mayl, he pitched a career-high 85-2/3 innings and rung up 75 batters, splitting four decisions with an ERA of 3.15 and a WHIP of 1.05.
North Carolina was where Mendoza wound up again when minor league baseball returned in 2021 after COVID scrubbed the 2020 minor league season. Pitching in Kinston (where the Blue Jays had an affiliate from 1979-1985) for the Down East Wood Ducks, he started his season with three shutout innings at Kannapolis on May 5. He bookended June with his best outings by collecting his lone win of the year at Carolina with five innings of three-run ball with five strikeouts on June 1. Mendoza then tossed five frames of one-run ball and struck out six against Carolina in a no-decision on June 24. His season would be cut short in July as he was placed on the seven-day injured list on July 24.
Even though Mendoza struck out 40 batters over 36-1/3 innings, his ERA was just south of 5.00. A deeper look into the numbers shows he was unlucky when it came to batted balls with a .378 BABIP (batting average-balls in play) mark. Mendoza’s FIP (fielder independent pitching) and xFIP (expected fielder independent pitching) totals checked in at 4.42 and 4.35, well below his 4.95 ERA. Before the calendar flipped to 2022, the Toronto Blue Jays selected Mendoza with the 22nd pick of the minor league Rule 5 draft on December 8.
Mendoza’s organizational debut in the Blue Jays system came on April 9 in Spokane against the team he was assigned to but never played for. He wound pitching two shutout innings and striking out two to set the tone for his 2022 season. His next outing saw him pick up his first win in a C’s uniform as he put up three scoreless frames in Tri-City on April 15.
The month of May was a good one for Mendoza as he gave up just two runs over 13 innings that resulted in a 1.38 ERA. Among the highlights were six whiffs over three shutout innings against Everett on May 4 and earning wins against Tri-City on May 20 and against Spokane on May 31 after recording seven outs in each of those appearances.
After collecting another win in Hillsboro on June 25, Mendoza made his first start of the year by pitching four innings of one-run ball in a victory against Spokane on June 30. He began to toggle between the starting rotation and the bullpen in July as he struck out six over four innings of two-run ball in a win at Everett on July 10. Mendoza picked up another W with three innings of one-run ball at Hillsboro on July 17 and that was the last run he allowed in July as he blanked the opposition for eight innings over his next appearances to give him a 1.69 ERA for the month. That stretch included a three-inning save against Everett on July 31.
It was early in the month of August that Mendoza joined the C’s rotation on a full-time basis and delivered six shutout innings and six strikeouts in a crucial win to open a seven-game series at Spokane on August 30. That win helped put Vancouver on the road to the postseason.
Though the season was marred by two rough outings against Eugene—including the Game 1 start in Eugene on September 12—Mendoza’s body of work landed him the George Bamberger Award as the Canadians top pitcher for 2022. He won six of eight decisions with one save, a 2.78 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 81 innings.
With a huge assist from Vancouver Canadians mental skills and performance coach Raul Pimentel, C’s Plus Baseball was able to chat with the 24-year-old Mendoza during the team’s final regular season homestand of 2022.
C’s Plus Baseball – When did you get started playing baseball?
Abdiel Mendoza (translation from Raul Pimentel) – My grandparents took me to the stadium with my cousins and my brothers and that’s when I fell in love with the game. And then I started watching big league games and that motivated me that I can be a baseball player too. I was able to achieve the first goal and was able to sign professionally and now I’m trying to get to the big leagues. Being in the minor leagues is not easy but I am working hard every day in order to achieve my end goal and that’s to get to the show.
CPB – When did you become a pitcher?
AM – When I was growing up, I loved to play shortstop, second base or outfielder but I had a good breaking ball, a good arm so that’s when I made the switch to pitching.
CPB – What is it that you like about pitching?
AM – The biggest thing for me is that we’re the center of attention. All the fans are looking at you, everybody’s ready for you, what you’re going to do. That’s what I really love and embrace.
CPB – How would you describe yourself as a pitcher? What kind of pitcher would you say you are?
AM – A complete pitcher. I like to always attack the zone. I like to always get ahead of the heaters. I’m being able to bounce back between outings, being able to watch what I did wrong and what can I do better. That’s something that I do a lot. How can I be better in the next outing and how can I be able to let go what happened in the past outing? That’s the type of pitcher I am, a complete pitcher who likes to get ahead of everyone.
CPB – What kind of pitches do you throw right now?
AM – One of my favourites is my super slider. A big slider that I can use to strike out guys. Then also my sinker, that is my best pitch but I’m able to also throw a fastball and a change up. So I’m trying to do a good job putting all that in the zone and trying to put hitters away.
CPB – Who would you say has helped you develop as a pitcher?
AM – In my hometown, there are not many pitching coaches but whoever came in with a little tip or something, I try to put that in and make it happen. I’m just getting better little by little every day.
CPB – What was it like when you signed with the Oakland A’s and then you were traded to Texas?
AM – It was hard for me to go to another team because I didn’t want to leave all my teammates and start all over again. I’m a very quiet and introverted guy so usually, it’s a little bit harder for me to do all that process. However, little by little I was acting (more like) myself. It was hard for me at the beginning for sure.
CPB – The Toronto Blue Jays pick up. Was that like knowing that Toronto was interested in you?
AM – There were a lot of teams interested but they were first one to call me, so that tells me how interested they are. I had a very rough year with some injuries, some soreness on my arm. Now here with the Jays, I’ve been able to keep healthy and have been working hard every day and having a wonderful season right now so I’m super happy to be here with the Jays.
CPB – You were in Dunedin at the Player Development Complex. What did you think of the new facility?
AM – It’s crazy how baseball has changed. Watching all that technology, all those things that are there to help the pitchers, it’s incredible. I think that us embracing and using that technology and all that data to make us better is fantastic. So we just keep learning and becoming better pitchers every day.
CPB – This season, you started out in the bullpen and then you became a starter. Does it matter to you what role you are in?
AM – At first I started in relief and they pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey, we want you to start and make changes in your routine and have a better routine to be a starter.’ So I continue focusing on that, having a routine. Being healthy, I was able to do the job at that time. I think the key was there in the routine, like the changes I made. And I feel comfortable anywhere they put me. I just know that I need to adapt and make changes and it’s working out very well.
CPB – Your start in Spokane (August 30), you pitched six shutout innings. What was it like pitching in Spokane?
AM – It was a very emotional game because we know we needed to win. Spokane is a very good team and has very good hitters. However, we knew it was our duty and that was going out there to compete. It was amazing to throw those innings. It was a very good thing to help my team win.
CPB – Pitching here at Nat Bailey Stadium. What’s it like with all these fans pitching here and how do you focus on the mound?
CPB – Hey, I love to pitch here. The emotion is incredible here. I really enjoy pitching here. How the fans are electrifying. The atmosphere is amazing and it’s just very good to be here. I really enjoy pitching here.
The Mendoza File
- Uniform Numbers – Wore number 4 for Beloit and 22 for Vermont in 2017 and wore number 22 for Down East in 2021.
- Height – 6-foot-0
- Weight – 160 pounds
- Born – September 19, 1998 in Chitre, Panama
- Twitter – @Abdiel1943
- Instagram – @abdiel_mendoza1919
- Birthplace Connection – Chitre, Panama is the same birthplace of C’s shortstop Leo Jiménez.
- Favourite MLB Pitcher – Mike Mussina
Un millión de gracias to Abdiel Mendoza, translator Raul Pimentel and C’s play-by-play announcer Tyler Zickel for this instalment of C’s Chat.