Maggie Wiggin, Contributor
Going into the 2014 season, Jenrry Mejia remains one of the most enticing question marks on the Mets roster. After being largely written off as yet another could-have-been prospect, he has re-emerged as the potential lynchpin of the rotation.
Mejia’s dreary start to his major league career in 2010 was marked by misuse, ineffectiveness and serious injury which triggered depressing memories of the hype and letdown of Generation K. After an ineffective “comeback” from Tommy John surgery in September 2012, he was seen as yet another unfulfilled promise, at best a future reliever. The numbers to that point supported that – in his limited time in the majors, his ERA as a starter was 7.03 and he had more walks than strikeouts…
2013 started with Mejia’s by-now-customary stint on the 60-day DL, but when he pitched in Double-A, he again showed glimpses of the top prospect he’d once been. The timing couldn’t have been more opportune, as the team was in need of a spot starter for a doubleheader in Washington DC. The Mejia who showed up that day was a new man, one with such dominating stuff and powerful mound presence that a mystified Nationals fan turned to me and said “Who is this guy?” I asked if he wanted the long story or the longer story…
What changed for Mejia? Maybe nothing. He finished his season with a 2.30 ERA and a sparkling 6.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he also finished with only five starts and yet another trip to the disabled list. It was a minor procedure compared to his Tommy John surgery, but it’s easy to see why the Mets made a point of building considerable rotation depth behind him during the offseason.
But maybe something did change. For one thing, Mejia showed up with a new and devastating slider that garnered a swing-and-miss 27 percent of the time (in a very small sample, this was almost double the rate of Matt Harvey’s notoriously filthy slider). His overall command improved significantly as well, throwing 67 percent of his pitches for strikes in 2013 up from 60 percent in 2010-2012. Fastball command, a nasty breaking ball, these are the hallmarks of the kind of pitcher Mejia was expected to become.
The rain on the 2013 Mejia parade is, as usual, the dreaded small sample size. Twenty-seven amazing innings are still just 27 innings, and while his season contained few if any of the standard red flags indicating a pitcher getting lucky, it’s not unusual for an otherwise-mediocre pitcher to have successful streaks that long or even longer. It’s also possible that the league will “figure him out” or that another round of elbow rehab will sap some of his velocity. That said, he’s just 24-years-old and has never looked better.
Mejia comes into camp with multiple experienced veterans ready to fill his rotation spot and some comments from the team suggest they may even have the inside track over Mejia to the Opening Day roster. However, if the Mejia we see at Spring Training is the Mejia who sent National after National back to the bench, shaking their heads that fateful July afternoon, it’s time for him to have a real opportunity to become the pitcher we’ve always wanted him to be.