The start of the baseball season is less than a month away. Every weekday until opening day, we’ll be counting down, from No. 20 to No. 1, the most important Mets players for the upcoming 2010 slate. Today, No. 13, relief pitcher Jenrry Mejia.
Every spring, one guy breaks out, seemingly from nowhere, and takes the entire camp by storm. (We are reminded of the 2001 Cardinals, in which some weird guy with number 68 inspired Mark McGwire to say, “Watch him: He’s going to be in the Hall of Fame someday.”) This year, that guy, for the Mets, is Jenrry Mejia.
Now, Mejia is not exactly a lightning bolt: The 20-year-old Dominican was considered the team’s top prospect this off-season as well. But his spring performance — seven and a third innings, one run, eight strikeouts, no walks — has blown away the Mets brass and has manager Jerry Manuel openly pleading with management to put him on the opening day roster. The Mets had been planning on putting Mejia in the Double A rotation this year and bringing him along slowly, but this spring has moved the goalposts. A few scouts are comparing him to Mariano Rivera. That’s how heated it has become.
In a way, Mejia is a bit of a litmus test for the Mets, a way to tell just how desperate and crazy they are. If the Mets were, say, the Rays, they’d plug him in Binghamton and take their time. But this is a management team that is sinking and miles from shore; Mejia is an oar they’re loathe to resist. The Mets haven’t decided ultimately whether Mejia is a starter or a reliever — his lack of a consistent off-speed pitch makes some believe he projects for the pen — but right now, they need that eighth-inning bridge to Francisco Rodriguez. Mejia might be too tempting for a team that needs to win now.
Still: This is a man who has only been playing organized baseball for five years. Are the Mets willing to mortgage that much of their future? The next round of spring-training cuts are coming up soon. Do you want to bet on the Mets being prudent? We don’t.