GOODYEAR, ARIZ.—Outfielder Oscar Mercado won’t be breaking camp with the Indians this Opening Day. But if he continues to hit like he did in Arizona this spring, it might not be too long before he re-joins them.

The Indians on Tuesday optioned Mercado to Triple-A, but the disappointing news for the 24-year-old prospect came with a positive twist.

Mercado was one of the bright spots in Indians camp this spring, hitting .400 with three home runs, three doubles, one triple, nine RBI, one walk and one stolen base in 40 at-bats, eventually finishing with an OPS of 1.165, the top mark on the team.

“He had one heck of a camp,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “We just told him that, to the point where we had conversations about taking him with us.”

The final decision came down, as it often does with prospects, to Mercado’s future. The Indians didn’t want Mercado trying to find a rhythm in a bench role with an uncertain amount of at-bats. They also know the cold of Cleveland—and Minnesota, where they’ll open the 2019 season on March 28—doesn’t make seeing Major-League pitching for the first time any easier. It will also allow the Indians to hold off starting his service time clock.

“The way we’re situated, playing once or twice a week in April in Cleveland, first time in the Major Leagues, we didn’t think that was setting him up for success,” Francona said. “Let him go to Columbus and play every day. I think we all feel like he has the capabilities of being an every-day Major-League player.”

Mercado now stands as one of the key players to watch as the season unfolds as someone who could factor in the Indians’ outfield picture. He already forced the Indians to discuss allowing him to break camp with the club. The next discussion he hopes to force is his promotion, assuming he continues to play as he did this spring.

“He’s aware of that,” Francona said. “He knows how we feel about what he’s done. … He’s a really off-the-charts kid. … His future should be bright.”

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.