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Latin Market Bargain: Jenrry Mejia

The international free agent market opened yesterday with a number of high-profile signings of 16-year-old prospects out of Latin America. Many of the players signed on Thursday received six- to seven-figure bonuses bases on their tools and future projections. One of the most fascinating parts of scouting and development is that there are always diamonds in the rough to be found.

The New York Mets club is having a frustrating season at the Major League level, but the organization has to be pretty excited about one of its international free agent acquisitions from the 2007 signing period. Right-hander Jenrry Mejia, just 19 years old, has risen to double-A in just his first full season in North America. The best part is that the Mets organization signed Mejia for less than $20,000.

Mejia possesses a mid-90s fastball that is still adding velocity and a very good, deceptive changeup. His breaking ball – a curveball – is still developing. Mejia has shown good control for a young pitcher with limited professional pitching experience.

The Dominican hurler made his North American debut in the rookie league in 2008 after spending one season in the Dominican Summer League. Before the 2008 season was over, though, Mejia was pitching against college graduates in the short-season New York Penn League.

Despite jumping over low-A to begin 2009, Mejia had few problems in high-A ball, where he posted a 1.97 ERA and allowed just 41 hits in 50.1 innings of work. He had a walk rate of just 2.86 BB/9 and racked up a strikeout rate of 7.87. Mejia also induced ground balls at the rate of 65.4%, while allowing a line-drive rate of just 9.8%. Promoted to double-A as a teenager, he has actually had to work a little bit. In four starts, Mejia’s given up 23 hits in 21.2 innings, while posting rates of 3.74 BB/9 and 9.97 K/9. His ground-ball rate has remained solid at 53.6%, while his line-drive rate is still low at 10.1%.

Mejia is an exciting prospect – and not just because he’s holding his own as a teenager in double-A. He’s dominating with a good repertoire that promises to get even better as he fills out his frame and gains more experience spinning his curveball. As well, he works down in the zone better than most young pitchers (thanks in part to that changeup) and he’s allowed just two home runs this season in 72 innings of work combined between high-A and double-A.

If he can stay healthy, Mejia has the chance to be a No. 1 or 2 starter and his Major League career will very likely begin before his 21st birthday.