When the New York Mets opened the 2010 season with top prospect Jenrry Mejia, a 20-year-old righty with scarce experience above A-Ball, in the big league bullpen instead of in a minor league rotation, the move was viewed as a short-sighted play by a GM and manager with tenuous job security.
The Mets have apparently changed course, however. According to ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin, Mejia will return to the minors to get stretched out as a starter. With the oft-pummeled Oliver Perez banished to the ‘pen and Jon Niese at least temporarily sidelined by a hamstring injury (R.A. Dickey to the rescue!), New York is short on starting options and hopes that Baseball America’s #56 preseason prospect can return to take some turns later this summer.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007 for just $16,500, Mejia split the 2009 campaign between the High-A Florida State League and the Double-A Eastern League. The 6-0, 160 pound (listed) Mejia struck out 7.9 batters, walked 2.9 per nine and had a 61.7 percent ground ball rate in 50.1 FSL frames. In Double-A, he increased his whiff rate (9.5 K/9) and got plenty of grounders (56.3 GB%) in 44.1 innings, though Mejia issued more walks (4.7 BB/9).
Entering 2010, Baseball America described Mejia as possessing 90-96 MPH gas (touching 98 MPH) with “so much cutting and sinking action that it befuddles hitters.” BA also liked his low-to-mid-80’s changeup, while also noting that the off-speed pitch was inconsistent and that his breaking stuff needed plenty of work.
As a reliever in the majors with a praiseworthy fastball and rudimentary secondary stuff, Mejia did what you would expect: he reared back and fired. He used his heater (averaging 94.4 MPH on the radar gun) about 81 percent of the time, supplementing it with a high-70’s curveball (10 percent) and a mid-80’s change (nine percent).
In 17.1 low-leverage innings (0.84 Leverage Index), Mejia had 7.27 K/9, 4.15 BB/9 a 58.5 ground ball rate and a 4.23 expected FIP (xFIP). He had some issues getting ahead in the count, as a sub-50 first pitch strike percentage attests, but Mejia simply holding his own is a testament to his talent.
This is the right move for the Mets–Mejia’s long-term value to the franchise is considerably higher as a potential front-line starter than it is as a reliever. He needs innings to build stamina, hone his control and develop his change and slider.
Similarly, Mejia’s returning to a starting role should be viewed as a positive for fantasy owners. His high K/high ground ball skill set makes him highly coveted in keeper leagues. It’s easier to scrounge for saves that it is to find a premium starting prospect.