Budding prospects testing Manuel’s patience

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Omar Minaya’s way of doing business may usually leave teams with scant high-round Draft picks. But lately, the Mets’ GM has done fairly well with the little he’s had left. 

I wrote recently about first baseman Ike Davis and how he may be the Amazin’s best option at the position right now. But there’s more. There’s outfielder Fernando Martinez, shortstop Ruben Tejada and hard-throwing right-hander Jenrry Mejia.
And, wouldn’t you know it, all three of them play positions of immediate need for the Mets.
With Carlos Beltran (knee) expected to be out for the start of the season, the Mets have a hole in center field. Sure, Angel Pagan is expected to fill it, and Gary Matthews Jr. was brought in on a Minor League deal, but Fernando Martinez — in a small sample size, sure — came into Saturday batting .500 (16-for-32) while leading his club in homers (3) and RBIs (11).
Jose Reyes’ thyroid condition may keep him out for the start of the year, and the Mets are expected to go with backup Alex Cora. But Tejada has opened some eyes, batting .378 (14-for-37) with a .425 on-base percentage, three doubles and five RBIs.
Then there’s the starting rotation and the back end of the bullpen. The Mets have an open competition for the fifth-starter’s spot, and neither Jon Niese nor Fernando Nieve really stand out to me. They also have a hole in the eighth-inning role, since the man expected to take it on, Kelvim Escobar, is likely to start the season on the DL. Mejia can fill both. And in the early part of camp, he’s already been compared to Doc Gooden and opened eyes with his Grapefruit League stats — 9 1/3 innings, two runs, eight strikeouts, one walk, a 1.93 ERA.
But Jerry Manuel hasn’t taken the bait. In all three of these situations, he has said the young players would need to be eased into roles like these, either with more time in the Minor Leagues or in less-demanding situations. Some of it (maybe a lot of it) may have to do with New York not wanting to start the clock on these guys and realizing it has a lot invested in the other candidates. But a lot also speaks to the patience Minaya and Manuel are taking in the wake of so much pressure.
With the way the media is in New York — not to mention the impatience of the fans and the miserable 2009 season the club is coming off — it’d be easy to jump the gun, put these guys in roles they’re not ready for and halt their progression.
Kudos to the Mets (unless they change their minds).
Now, here’s a look at those three prospects, courtesy of Baseball America …
* Fernando Martinez (age: 21; B/T: L/R; HT: 6-1; WT: 200; POS: OF; BA rank: T100- 77, NYM- 3) — Baseball America calls him Minaya’s highest-profile Latin American signing in his five years as Mets GM. Martinez (pictured left, New York Daily News), signed to a $1.3 million bonus, is coming off season-ending right knee surgery in July and has dealt with hamstring injuries and a broken bone in his right hand. Martinez has power to all fields, but he’s been more of a pull hitter recently. “His bat speed and improved ability to make contact should allow him to hit for a solid average,” the publication wrote. Martinez is said to have “average” arm strength, “good” range and declining speed after putting on more weight. 

* Ruben Tejada (age: 20; B/T: R/R; HT: 6-0; WT: 160; POS: SS/2B; BA rank: T100- N/A NYM rank: 9) — Tejada had a solid year in Double-A Binghamton in 2009, batting .289 with a .351 on-base percentage, 46 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. The Mets considered calling him up during their injury-riddled season last year but decided against it. Baseball America calls him an “above-average” defender with good arm strength, adding that he has “above average” speed and a good contact hitter who could develop into having some gap power. Still, the publication says it’s his bat that could keep him from being an everyday player in the big leagues, since he needs to do a better job of drawing walks (he walked 37 times in ’09 while striking out 59 times). The Mets actual have an even higher-rated shortstop prospect — Wilmer Flores, ranked No. 88 in the Baseball America top 100 and second in the organization.  But he hasn’t played past low A ball.

jenrry mejia.jpg
* Jenrry Mejia (age: 20; B/T: R/R; HT: 6-0; WT: 162; POS: P; BA rank: T100- 56, NYM- 9) — Meet the top-rated prospect in the Mets’ farm system. Mejia (pictured right, Newark Star Ledger) went 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA in high A, and though he struggled with his promotion in Double-A — going 0-5 with a 4.47 ERA — he has really electric stuff and has shown that among the big leaguers. His fastball ranges from 90-96 mph and has hit up to 98 mph on occasion. From Baseball America: “He’s able to maintain his velocity late into games, and his fastball has so much cutting and sinking action that it befuddles hitters.” He also induces a lot of groundballs and his changeup is said to be a “plus pitch,” as it resembles a splitter and is 81-84 mph. His slider, though, “needs a lot of work.” 
— Alden Gonzalez

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