While there has been a lot of talk about who will fill the Yankees’ fifth starter role, there has been even more talk in Mets camp about who will fill just about any role. Aside from Johan Santana, the pitching staff is a bit of a question mark. And while much of the Mets’ buzz this Spring Training has been about Carlos Beltran’s and Jose Reyes’ injuries, the other big piece of news is that of prospect RHSP Jenrry Mejia.
Mejia has impressed the Mets, and others, in Spring Training and there is talk of Jenrry heading north with the big league team as a relief pitcher once the regular season starts. This would be a huge mistake. For confirmation of this, the Mets need only to look across town to see what happens when you tinker with a young player’s development to fill a hole that could be otherwise filled. Of course, I’m talking about Joba Chamberlain.
Before going further, I will say that the situations are not analogous. Chamberlain was older than Mejia when he made his run through the minors in 2007 and was much more polished as a college pitcher. He was also brought up very late in the season and spent time in the bullpen because of an approaching innings limit and because the team needed late inning bullpen help. The biggest mistake, though, was not “re-starting” him, so to speak, in 2009. The talk of Mejia has a similar “Make-Him-A-Reliever-Before-Giving-Him-A-Chance-To-Succeed-Or-Fail-As-A-Starter” vibe.
First of all, Mejia is just 20 years old (B. Oct. 11, 1989) and he has yet to pitch a full season in AA; he pitched 44.1 innings in AA in the second half of 2009 after pitching 50.1 innings at A+ during the first half. To rush him up to the minors just to pitch in relief would be a move devastating to his development as a starter. FanGraphs ranked him as the number three prospect in the Mets organization. A talent like that should not be converted into a reliever until it is clear he has failed as a starter. Mejia is far too young to have failed and we’ll need to see him pitch at AA and higher to see if how he can fare as a starter.
There is a counter to this, found here:
“Mejia’s slider needs a lot of work. He throws it with an inconsistent release point and arm speed, often leaving it up in the strike zone He sometimes throws his changeup too hard and doesn’t achieve enough separation from his fastball. His fastball command also can stand to improve, and even he acknowledges he doesn’t quite know where the pitch is headed when he releases it.
The logic could be that if Mejia is having trouble harnessing his secondary offerings, why not focus his energy on perfecting two pitches rather than a whole arsenal? Why not? Because, again, Mejia is 20. A lot of 20 year old pitchers struggle with their control and the effectiveness of their secondary pitches. He needs time to perfect these things.
This same argument is made in regards to Joba. Some say he should just focus on his fastball/slider combo, which would make him perfect for the bullpen. Of course, I say to that, why waste his talent and other pitches? But, I really don’t need to sit here and remind you that I think Joba should be a starter. I’ve done that enough.
I will say, though, that Chamberlain’s development was hampered by the tinkering in 2008 (the shoulder injury didn’t help) and if the Mets do the same thing to Mejia, his development could be hindered even more. By turning Mejia to the bullpen, the Mets would be giving up on a great talent to fulfill a current need that is not nearly as great as their future need.
As it’s been mentioned everywhere in the baseball world, the Mets’ starting rotation is essentially in shambles. Johan is the only sure thing, and even he’s a bit less sure after an elbow injury. Mike Pelfrey and John Maine are okay, but they’re not the building blocks of a rotation. Jon Neise has a bit more upside, but he’s still behind Mejia in that category. The Mets’ need for starting pitching in the future will be greater than their need for a reliever now. Like Chamberlain’s, his development would be stunted, halted, tampered with, and all around impeded upon. It would hurt Mejia as a pitcher and it would hurt the Mets, as they’d be depriving themselves of a possible legitimate starting pitcher. Mejia-as-reliever may briefly plug a hole for the Mets, but that very same strategy will cause a greater leak down the road.