10:50 am Feb. 27, 2013
It is worth noting that the rate of attrition for pitching prospects, no matter how carefully handled, is very high. Many talented pitchers don't manage to perform well at higher levels, let alone the major leagues. And plenty that do perform well are destroyed by injuries.
But the Mets haven't exactly given themselves the benefit of the doubt on Jenrry Mejia. Back in 2010, the team, in need of a bullpen arm, converted the starter with almost no experience above single-A to a reliever for the major league club, thus keeping him from regular work to further develop, and limiting his innings, in a single stroke.
An almost endless shifting back and forth, followed, with unorthodox rest periods and a seemingly predestined elbow injury that followed. It is impossible to know if the Mets could have prevented Mejia from getting hurt. But given the fragility of pitching prospects who are treated properly, you'd think they would have tried.
And that star-crossed pitcher's fate seemed dimmer following his difficult outing Tuesday, allowing five runs, including a grand slam, in a single inning of work.
To be sure, one outing is almost nothing to use in evaluation. But Mejia, who was once the best pitching prospect the Mets had, has given plenty of reasons for concern.
The Mets' staff certainly wasn't treating the outing like Mejia had simply gotten unlucky.
"I wasn’t too pleased with the action of his fastball, and a couple of other things," Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen said following the game. "But we hope to correct them in the near future."
Mejia, in his first year back from Tommy John surgery in 2012, simply didn't strike enough people out to make a major league future seem possible. He struck out fewer than five hitters per nine innings at Triple-A, then walked nine and struck out just eight in 16 major league innings.
Worse yet, because he spent much of the year as a reliever, Mejia accumulated fewer than 110 innings pitched, so even if he takes a stride forward this season, the Mets wouldn't be able to use him for a full season as a starter, either in Triple-A as insurance policy, or in New York as an execution of that policy, without increasing his year-over-year innings well beyond a reasonable jump.
Then again, the Mets would dearly love to face that problem, because it would mean the struggling Mejia, just 23, had rediscovered the form that allowed him to strike out better than a batter per inning in 2010, the very live arm that so tempted the Mets to start messing with his development in the first place.
A steady role doesn't appear to be in Mejia's future anytime soon. He's both the emergency starter to be stationed in Las Vegas, with the team's Triple-A club, and yet manager Terry Collins still insists his place is in the later innings.
"Down the road, Jenrry, maybe his best slot is going to be coming out of that bullpen," Collins said. "He’s got a great arm. If he can regain the cutter he had three years ago, it’s a dynamic situation."
The Mets, to be sure, will be thrilled if Mejia can be of any help to them. And lacking upper-level options in their system, he should get a few more chances.
"I’m sure he’s a little anxious to be out there," Collins said, "so we’ll get him a side [session] and get him back out there next week."