When people talk about the future of the Mets’ rotation, they always talk about Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, as well they should. If he isn’t included in a trade, Jonathon Niese will be there, too. I’ve heard some mention Dillon Gee and while I’m still a bit skeptical about that one, after the half season he had in 2012, I won’t dismiss the possibility. Minor league followers will talk about Michael Fulmer and Rafael Montero.

And lost in the shuffle is Jenrry Mejia.

Apparently, it’s a little too easy to forget that he was once the top prospect in the organization. In 2009, he dominated the Hi-A Florida State League (1.97 ERA, 1.132 WHIP) as a 19 year old, and earned a promotion to Double-A and a spot in the Arizona Fall League, where he ran into some trouble against more advanced competition. Here’s what prospect maven John Sickels said about him following that year:

Mejia is still a premium prospect due to the quality of his fastball, his youth, and the combination of a high strikeout rate with plenty of grounders. I think he needs a full year of Double-A to refine his secondary pitches, but his ceiling remains that of a number one starter. He just needs more time.

Unfortunately, the Mets did not fire Jerry Manuel after the 2009 season. Manuel, knowing he was on a short leash, did not give Mejia the time he needed. Despite not winning a game above A-ball, Manuel brought Mejia to the majors as a reliever, envisioning that he would develop into a quality set-up man. Omar Minaya, operating with the same short leash as Manuel, did nothing to stop it and allowed this move to happen.

This is one of the reasons that you hear the phrase – Alderson was brought in to be the adult in the room. Can you imagine a scenario where Terry Collins wanted to convert Harvey or Wheeler into a setup man and Alderson allowed it to happen? Alderson would tell Collins – Look, I’ll indulge your lefty reliever fetish but there’s no way I’m going to let you turn a 200-IP stud into a 75-IP guy.

The results were tragic. Mejia did not turn into a stud setup man, wound up injured and needed Tommy John surgery and is now stuck in nowhere land. Because of service time, he’s no longer a rookie, he’s bounced back and forth between starting and relieving and the results have not been good. His star has faded and he’s essentially a forgotten man. Most Mets fans are content to throw him into the bullpen competition in Spring Training, figuring that’s where his future now lies..

Except that a bullpen role is still wrong.

Mejia saw action at three different minor league levels last year, but he spent most of his time at Triple-A, where he posted a 3.54 ERA in 26 games. He made 26 appearances for Buffalo last year, including 10 starts. Here is his starting/relieving breakdown last year in Triple-A:

SP – 52.1 IP, 16 ER, 2.75 ERA
RP – 21.1 IP, 13 ER, 5.48 ERA

Mejia also made two starts apiece last year for St. Lucie and Binghamton. In his 14 minor league starts, he had 3.03 ERA.

Just as it was in 2010 – there’s no reason to turn Mejia into a reliever right now. He’s not a finished product but he’s also not given any indication that he should be turned into a reliever. Generally, you do not turn a productive starter into a reliever. Instead, you give a pitcher every chance to make it as a starter until he proves incapable of handling the role. Then you switch him to a reliever.

Mejia should begin the year at Triple-A. If the Mets do not make a trade, he should be second in line to move into the starting rotation, behind only Jeremy Hefner.

Here’s where we also need to keep in mind the offensive environment not only of Las Vegas but the Pacific Coast League in general. It’s extremely unlikely that Mejia will duplicate last year’s 2.75 ERA as a SP in Triple-A. Yet Mejia could have a 4.25 ERA and still make strides as a starter. Watch his K/IP and K/BB ratios more than his ERA. Check to see if he’s still getting his share of ground balls.

Most importantly, leave him as a starter all year. It would be great if he could be healthy and complete the entire season as a starter, something he has not done since 2009. Not coincidentally, the year he became the Mets’ top prospect.

Harvey, Wheeler, Niese, Mejia – that has a nice sound to it, doesn’t it?

9 comments on “Jenrry Mejia: The Mets’ forgotten ace

  • Mike Koehler

    He definitely gets lost in the shuffle and I still believe he can be a No.1/2 pitcher.
    Any word on his changeup or slider? One was good at times and the other was clearly his third pitch.

    • Brian Joura

      None of his off-speed offerings looked particularly good last year in the majors. Pitchf/x showed him using his curve as his primary off-speed pitch, along with a change and a couple of sliders.

  • AV

    Thank you so much for saying what needed to be said! I hear fans sour on Mejia but forget that he is still six months younger than Matt Harvey, one day younger than Jeurys Familia, and only eight months older than Zack Wheeler. He deserves to be in the mix based purely on age and has a longer track record of success than any of those guys. Who knows, he may never be more than a #4 starter but I can’t help notice that all of the things being said about Mejia (undersized, max effort delivery, small frame) are the same things people were saying about Pedro Martinez. I forget, how did his career turn out after the Dodgers gave up on him?

    On an unrelated side note, Ruben Tejada is a few weeks younger than Familia/Mejia, making his accomplishments as a MLB SS all the more impressive.

  • Name

    I Agree with almost everything you wrote their.
    The one quibble i have is that i would not consider him to be 2nd in line after Hefner. He had good results at AAA last year, but the in the September games i watched him pitch, he looked awful. Unless he shows significant improvement in the beginning of next year, i would probably have Meija behind McHugh, Schwinden, and Hefner, in that order.

    • Name

      Forgot to edit, i look like an idiot for typing “their” instead of “there”

  • Metsense

    Brian, I already admitted my stupidity this morning in a previous post but you have to be a humbug and rub it in and write a whole article on it. Thanks alot!! (just kidding) Based on his pitch count in his 2 starts it is obvious he still needs a little seasoning at AAA. It is possible though that he may come around fast and actually get the callup before Wheeler in 2013. He was almost there just before the injury.

  • Pete

    If Mejia is a ground ball pitcher then pitching in the PCL will not matter. Gaining confidence and the ability to master his secondary pitches is the only thing that should matter to the Mets not his ERA. I agree that he doesn’t belong in the bullpen permanently but using him as a spot starter and having him there in case of injury I was wondering if Terry Collins would be better of to say to him no matter where you pitch you’re here to stay.Showing Mejia that he doesn’t need to worry about being sent down would go a long way in repairing the damage that was done to him physically and mentally.

  • David Groveman

    As long as Mejia gets a full season as a starter… whether he splits time between AAA and the majors or not, I will be mad as a hornet if he’s switched into relief before 2013 is over.

  • Stephen

    Thank you for writing this piece. I have been a big proponent for Mejia as a starter for years and I still maintain that this should be the approach until he proves otherwise.

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