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?