After six years of mismanagement, top prospect lists, and trips to the disabled list, Jenrry Mejia had his first successful stint in the major leagues in 2013.
Mejia returned to the majors on July 26 and dazzled with his four-pitch repertoire, including a greatly improved slider. The sample is small—5 starts, 27.1 innings—but the results matched both past and current scouting reports. Most importantly, after struggling with his control in previous big league trials, Mejia hardly walked anyone in 2013.
Any conversation about Mejia’s potential and future as a big league pitcher starts with his injury history. Mejia has never thrown more than 108 innings in a professional season because of his many ailments, which include: an MCL tear that required Tommy John surgery, a right shoulder strain, elbow inflammation (originally labeled as forearm tendinitis), and his recent trouble with bone spurs. Of note is that many of Mejia’s problems have involved his pitching elbow and shoulder.
The recently turned 24-year-old was shut down after a 3-inning start on August 17 so he could have bone spurs that he had been dealing with all season removed from his elbow. The Mets believe he will be ready for spring training.
The right-hander appears to have top of the rotation stuff. His stats remain open to interpretation because of the small yearly sample sizes. Still, his minor league totals are impressive, especially considering his aggressive promotions and nagging injuries (398 innings, 2.87 ERA).
There was a time not long ago where making Mejia a late-inning weapon seemed like an absolute waste of talent. That still might be the case, but the Mets are in a different spot than they were in 2010. The team is rich with promising young arms, and while you can never have enough pitching, the Mets might be closer to the point of excess than most teams.
The rotation currently sits at Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler, and Dillon Gee. All four figure to stick around for 2015, when Matt Harvey will join them. Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard, and Jacob deGrom are not far from contributing at the major league level. That leaves eight potential starters for the 2014 team—plus any veteran signed to compete for the fifth starter job—and nine potential starters for the 2015 team.
With holes elsewhere, the Mets could look to trade from their pitching depth, and that could include Mejia. As of now that does not appear to be the case, but it might be the only way to bring in a badly needed shortstop or first baseman. Without a trade, Mejia probably has the inside track for the fifth starter job. It should not surprise anyone if he wins it but is ultimately replaced by Montero, deGrom, or Syndergaard if he suffers another injury. One more injury could send Mejia to the bullpen permanently, or to a team willing to take a chance on an injury-prone young pitcher with a top of the rotation ceiling.
Desired role for 2014: Is there an easier player to root for on the 2014 Mets? A full season as the Mets number five starter would be a considerable victory for Mejia, the team, and the fans left craving more after his flashes of brilliance in 2013.
Expected role for 2014: It’s easy to hope on the 24-year-old’s potential, at least until some jerk writer reminds you that he hasn’t pitched more than 108 innings in a season. He will probably win the number five starter job out of spring training, and the Mets will trot him out there as long as he is healthy. If he goes down, Montero will take over, and Mejia may lose his starting job but dominate out of the bullpen.