There will undoubtedly be plenty of scrutiny of Ruben Tejada’s performance this season as shortsighted writers and fans ponder why the Mets did not sign Jose Reyes and chose to let this guy play shortstop instead.
Prior to Reyes’ departure, Tejada was a relatively unknown player. Signed by the team in 2006 as an amateur free agent, he wasn’t a highly-touted prospect over his years in the minor leagues. In 1,881 plate appearances spanning five seasons, Tejada hit .270/.340/.353, playing a bit at each significant level of the Mets’ system. Even though he wasn’t banging down the door to join the Mets’ roster, he made it to the big leagues in 2010 at the age of 20. While he didn’t hit for average or power, Tejada did show an ability to draw walks. It was just about the only positive part of his offensive game at the time.
Last year, Tejada once again got an unexpected opportunity with the Mets, and the results were significantly better at the plate. Eno Sarris wrote up an in-depth analysis of Tejada’s performance, the shortest version of which is that he hit .284/.360/.335. Tejada’s .315 wOBA and 100 wRC+ compared favorably to the league averages for a shortstop in 2011, which were .303 and 88, respectively.
Tejada’s 2012 season has gotten off to an odd start because of the mini-saga surrounding his on-time-but-late arrival to spring training, satirized by James Kannengieser and summarized by Patrick Flood. Once he’s actually playing baseball, though, the question will be whether or not Tejada can continue getting on base. If he can do that and play above-average defense, he could be a perfectly decent shortstop for the Mets. For a 22-year-old making the league-minimum salary, that’s not bad at all.
Ruben Tejada will not be the next Jose Reyes, but that’s all right. Shortstops like Reyes and Troy Tulowitzki are rare, but even good shortstops are uncommon. If Tejada can reach that level, Mets fans should celebrate his success.