The Waiting Game

Posted on March 27, 2010 by

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There is no reason why three of the Mets top prospects should even sniff a starting role in Queens when the 2010 regular season begins. First baseman Ike Davis, middle infielder Ruben Tejada and pitcher Jenrry Mejia all need to return to the minors – probably Double-A Binghamton.

All three are almost guaranteed to reach the major leagues sooner than later. In fact, I’ll be appalled if at least one isn’t starting by next year, and that’s Davis.

The debate for 2010 ended on Tuesday when the young first baseman was demoted to minor league camp. Demotion, that’s not really a fair word to use here. Davis has tons of potential, a great work ethic and apparently good character. He wasn’t sent back because he underperformed, just that it’s probably in the Mets’ best interests to let the 23-year-old develop further.

Davis was taken 18th overall in the 2008 draft, lost in a slew of underachieving top draft picks. Beginning his career in Brooklyn, Davis also underwhelmed in his first year. He hit just .256 with no home runs and 17 RBI. But as he played more in the system, his bat awoke. Davis split 2009 in Port St. Lucie and Binghamton, hitting .288 and .309 respectively. His power also reappeared as he hit 7 round-trippers and 28 RBI in Port St. Lucie and 13 home runs while knocking in 43 runs at Binghamton.

Wearing number 78 in spring training, his bat was on fire. The first baseman hit .480 with 3 home runs in 25 at-bats. Flashes of his plus defense were also on display down in Florida, although he did make a few errors early on.

Many analysts and fans believe Davis is very close to being a major league first baseman, and I agree with them. That said, he would probably benefit long-term from at least a partial season in AA or AAA to continue improving his offense, especially on avoiding a pull-happy swing.

Another Met prospect who has no real shot of breaking camp with the team is Tejada.
All-star shortstop Jose Reyes’ return to camp on Tuesday all but assured the 20-year-old middle infielder of a plane ticket upstate.

Wearing number 79 in camp, Tejada hasn’t officially been demoted yet. But between the return of Reyes, Luis Castillo still at second base and Alex Cora being paid $2 million to back up both, there’s just no room in the inn.

Much like Davis, Tejada also had a solid spring training that caught some eyes. It’s shouldn’t be too much of a surprise though; this is his third go-around. He’s played in 29 games and collected 88 at-bats since early 2008, 17 games and 47 at-bats coming in the last few months. Known for having no power and making contact with as many pitches as possible – think Slappy McSingleton – he impressed. Tejada hit for .319, but only found his way on base at a .385 clip and collected an OPS of .789.

This isn’t terribly unlike his regular season play. In two years of non-summer league play, he hit for a .272 average, including a recent .289 stint in Binghamton and a .229 effort in Port St. Lucie. He’s played in more than 130 games each season, but has just 10 home runs and 72 total extra base hits in 1,406 plate appearances throughout his minor league career.

For Tejada to be even a mediocre hitter in the majors, his bat needs significant improvement in the minors. Any increase in power would be a great help, while he could stand to take more walks and bump up his shaky OBP. More time in AA could also help stabilize his batting average. He’s also just 20 years old. Ideally he could use a full year to mature, but a long-term injury could rightfully prompt a midseason callup.

Thankfully offense isn’t Tejada’s meal ticket, his defense is. Splitting time between shortstop and second base, he’s got good range and a good arm for either position, and has no problem showing it. A number of scouts and baseball people believe he could at least be a strong defensive shortstop capable of supporting an anemic bat.

Finally we get to the curious case of Mejia. There may be enough controversy and competition for an indie film, but Mejia’s got blockbuster-level potential.

Signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2007, the 19-year-old kid has impressed every step of the way. He boasts a fastball in the mid-90s with tremendous movement, a solid curveball and a changeup at 88 mph that Dan Warthen wants to make slower. There’s also been mention of a fourth pitch, ranging from a sinking fastball to a slider.

Mejia joined the farm system in the Dominican Summer League that year and showed a low ERA, as well as a poor K/BB ratio. He was rushed to Binghamton last year, throwing 44.1 innings. But after sporting a 4.47 ERA that year, compared to his 2.91 career average, it’s obvious that he hasn’t quite dominated that level. Sure, he put together a 1.54 ERA and 0.77 WHIP in 11.2 spring training innings, but Mejia’s just not ready to last a full season in the majors as a starter.

Number 76’s fastball has been the talk of Port St. Lucie this spring, eliciting comparisons from Darryl Strawberry to Mariano Rivera’s cutter. And who can blame Jerry Manuel or anyone thinking about making him a major league reliever after putting up those numbers this spring. But consider this, how long will a one-pitch repertoire last in the major leagues? It’s also worth noting that he definitely appears to have the stamina and ability to be at least a serviceable major league starter down the line. He’s continued striking out almost a batter an inning at every level, but his walks have dropped since the beginning. Give the kid a full year, probably two, in AA or AAA to improve his secondary stuff, learn to issue fewer walks and finish maturing.

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Posted in: Perspectives