When the Mets opened spring training in 2012, one of the biggest questions about the team was whether or not Ruben Tejada was ready to handle playing shortstop in the big leagues on an everyday basis. Before this year, Tejada accumulated 631 plate appearances, all before he turned 22 years old, but he hadn't exactly torn the cover off the ball. In that sample, his best offensive statistic was his passable .338 on-base percentage.
Despite the strange-but-somehow-real criticism from Terry Collins regarding Tejada's failure to show up early to spring training, he went on to have a mostly successful 2012 campaign. He hit .289/.333/.351 in 501 plate appearances. While his end-of-season numbers didn't live up to his excellent first half — .325/.381/.405 — they still compared favorably to those of the average National League shortstop: .259/.313/.387. He played fairly well defensively, too, and finished the year with 2.1 fWAR and 1.9 rWAR.
Minor Leagues: Help on the Way?
It doesn't look like the Mets will be in the market for a shortstop anytime soon, especially since Tejada won't be eligible for his first arbitration year until 2014 and is under the Mets' control through 2016. Still, if he were to falter, the Mets might turn to the farm system to fill his spot. We turn to Rob Castellano for a look at the position in the minors:
Any discussion of the Mets’ internal shortstop pipeline pretty much starts and ends with Wilfredo Tovar. The 21-year-old Venezuelan possesses the kind of speed, agility, and arm strength to profile as a plus-defensive shortstop at the major league level. That's not the kind of commodity that grows on trees.
What’s more, despite a light-hitting approach at the plate and his minuscule 5-9, 160-pound frame, Tovar features outstanding contact ability, solid plate discipline, and surprising doubles power. In short, he has the kind of offensive tools to potentially make himself into an everyday player, much in the same mold as Ruben Tejada, with a little more speed.
Beyond Tovar, we’d likely see Jordany Valdespin. The soon-to-be 25-year-old infielder clearly possesses the kind of raw athleticism to make all the plays at short, but, as we saw in 2012, he lacks the instincts to profile there full-time. I hate to say that he couldn’t ever learn the ropes at the position, but learning them at the major league level isn't an ideal option for anyone.
The only way the Mets will look for a shortstop externally this winter is if some sort of injury befalls Tejada, but the free-agent options left on the market right now are Jason Bartlett, Ronny Cedeno, Stephen Drew, and Alex Gonzalez, among others. Let's hope it doesn't come to the Mets handing the everyday gig to any of those players.
Best Option for 2013
Like third base, there's no question about the Mets' plan at shortstop. Ruben Tejada will get a shot to improve upon his good 2012 season. At the age of 23, there's still plenty of time for growth. He'll never be a slugger, but perhaps Tejada will develop a little more extra-base power over the next couple of years. With the team's relatively limited budget for payroll, a young, productive, cost-controlled shortstop is quite an asset.