ST. LOUIS — Oscar Mercado, the St. Louis Cardinals' second-round pick in the June 6 amateur draft, is considered a dynamic defensive shortstop.
Whether Mercado's bat will play at the major-league level is questionable, although there's no lack of confidence to get in his way.
"If the time does come when I make it to the big leagues, I think I can consider myself to be a pretty good hitter, pretty good on-base percentage," said Mercado, a right-handed hitter. "I won't hit for much power. I try to model my hitting game after Derek Jeter, so hopefully I'll end up being like him one day."
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Mercado, from Gaither High School in Tampa, Fla., passed his physical and signed with the Cardinals on Monday. Mercado, the 57th player selected, received $1.5 million -- more than $500,000 over the slot value of $971,400.
Mercado, who had signed with Florida State, batted .286 with just five extra-base hits at Gaither, although he stole 26 bases. Mercado said his problems began when he was moved to the No. 3 spot in the batting order and tried to hit for power.
"Throughout the (2012) summer, when my swing was at its best was when I was driving everything the other way," Mercado said. "As soon as I got to high school season, I was the only one on my team with any power and (RBI) potential.
"So I went down to the third hole and started trying to lift things. I started hitting a lot of popups and ground balls to the left side instead of sticking with my approach. I think that killed me a lot. It's something I learned from. ... I should have relaxed a little more and let the game come to me instead of going out there and trying to make things happen."
Mercado will begin his professional career with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla. The season begins Saturday.
"To sign one of the best, if not the best, shortstops in amateur baseball is something that we are all really excited about," Cardinals Scouting Director Dan Kantrovitz said. "Oscar embodies what it means to be a Cardinal both on and off the field and should be a great ambassador for our organization for years to come."
Mercado met Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, members of the coaching staff and several players before the game Monday.
"It was an honor," Mercado said. "It's a little overwhelming. Those guys are huge down there, so I've got a long way to go. It's just exciting to know I can be a part of all this, and hopefully one day I'll be out here playing with these guys.
"I liked them all; they were all nice and they were all cool. They weren't intimidating at all. I thought they would be, but not really."
Mercado said Matheny's advice was "to just go out there and give it my all every day, have fun."
"He had a really good pro career, so that's something I'm going to take into consideration," Mercado said.
Mercado was looking forward to attending Florida State, which might explain why the Cardinals paid Mercado over slot value.
"I did want to go to college," Mercado said. "It was something I had no problem doing. It was going to take a good amount for me to bypass that.
(But) I loved the organization I landed with. That had a lot to do with it. ... All the right pieces landed together. I feel like I couldn't be any happier where I landed."
Despite his offensive struggles this spring, Mercado never got the feeling that teams were losing interest.
"I always felt a lot of teams had faith in me," he said. "I know they knew what kind of player I was (from) the way I performed over the summer. The (spring) season didn't turn out to be how I wanted it to turn out. But at the end of the day, it all worked out for the best."
Mercado isn't sure what he will do with his newfound wealth.
"Maybe a car for my dad, maybe a car for me, maybe pay off the house," he said. "We'll see how everything goes."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.