As I'm sure you all guessed, this is a comprehensive look back at the handling of the Mets newest young homegrown talent, SS Ruben Tejada.
(Get it? The man is Omar, who clearly had no plan with Tejada, probably crushed his morale and the kid's from Panama? Yes, I know it's no longer a palindrome, shut up)
The fact that Tejada is doing what he is currently doing at the major league level is somewhat astounding. In short, this organization should be thanking Jesus, Allah, Buddha, whomever, that Tejada somehow made it through the wringer and came out on the other side resembling a productive major league player. For anyone that doesn't know, under the Omar Minaya/Tony Bernazard regime, the Mets have made it a practice of pushing minor leaguers (especially talented Latin players) extremely aggressively. And few took the brunt of that misguided strategy more than Tejada throughout his minor league career.
First off, it seems like we've been saying Tejada's name for a while now but people don't realize how short a time he spent in the minors. Start to finish, his minor league career spanned an even 300 games. Comparatively, Jose Reyes (who himself is another notorious case of prospect rushing as he famously made his Mets debut at age 19) had 343 games in the minors. Superstar Hanley Ramirez had 400 games before reaching the show. Even a player with a more similar skill set to Tejada, Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera, played in 429 minor league games. No matter how you slice it Tejada had a very short minor league career. And that would be fine if only he had warranted such handling...
Tejada's Path Through the Minors:
After signing, Tejada began his pro career at 17 years old in the the Venezuelan Summer League, but quickly played himself out of there by going .364/.466/.479 with three bombs, 16 stolen bases and a sterling 19:19 K to BB ratio in 149 PA's. Promoted to the Gulf Coast League, Tejada was still age-appropriate but suddenly facing stiffer competition. In the exact same amount of plate appearances, Tejada posted a .283/.401/.367 line with no homers, only two stolen bases but actually improved his K:BB (16:19). He slowed down considerably but still an impressive showing from a 17 year old.
Then take into account his potentially great defense at short and suddenly Tejada was starting to become someone worth getting excited over. Unfortunately, come spring assignment time the Mets got too excited. Forget short-season ball, he's skipping Kingsport. And while we're at it Brooklyn too. Like current Mets prospect Wilmer Flores, Tejada was one of those rare 18 year olds to start the year in a full-season league. Except Tejada skipped Lo-A Savannah too.
Egregious Error #1: In his first full season as a pro, with 35 games in America under his belt, Ruben Tejada played his entire age 18 season at Hi-A St. Lucie. This is a level with an average age around 23, a level that many consider THE biggest leap forward in the minors, except instead of Lo-A he was leaping from Venezuela. For those unfamiliar with the minors, I can't even explain the disparity between these levels. Wilmer Flores is a special talent and he just reached Hi-A as basically a 19 year old, only after a year and a half at Lo-A. Tejada was 18 and regularly facing off against players who were upwards of six years his senior...and it showed. He posted a line of .229/.293/.296, stole only eight bases (with five caught stealing) and hit only two home runs and 25 XBH for a pitcher-like ISO (Power) of .066. On defense, the speed of the game ate the soft-handed shortstop alive as he made 30 errors. It was obvious he wasn't ready and nothing made that more clear than his K:BB, a strength from previous stops which at St. Lucie plummeted to 77:41.
Ok, next spring comes and at this point we should be realizing our mistake. No harm in sending him back to Savannah which is still high level, full-season baseball. I suppose we could try the sink-or-swim approach, leave him at Hi-A where he's still grossly underage hoping he figures things out at the risk of overexposing him. Or there's option #3...
Egregious Error #2: Following a season where Tejada, BY FAR the youngest player in the league, struggled mightily at Hi-A, the Mets actually promoted him to Double-A Binghamton. The average age in Double-A is 25 years old; Tejada was 19. There should be laws against this. Honestly, the kid was drowning and what does Tony Bernazard do? Straps a lead weight to his legs called 'Major League-ready pitching'. Go get 'em kid. It is a testament to Tejada's talent that he somehow managed to stay above water that year despite still displaying some serious developmental flaws. His final line was .289/.351/.381 which looks OK but was boosted by some nice luck (.325 BABIP). He did hit five homers yet his ISO remained pretty awful at .091 (the very same figure Mike Pelfrey posted in his season at Binghamton). His K:BB improved (59:37) but that basically meant it went from horrid to just plain bad.
All in all it was a pretty rough 19 year old season where he scrapped and fought to improve even the slightest bit, while pitted against guys six or seven years his senior. It really wasn't fair for him but fortunately his raw talent kept him from going under and fading away into failed prospectdom. So again, it's spring, last season Tejada had to claw and fight to hold onto mediocrity. Should we let him catch his breath? Hell no.
Egregious Error #3: In 2010, the Mets once again aggressively promoted Tejada, this time to Triple-A Buffalo. At 20 years old he was the youngest player to play for the Bisons in 17 years. Oh yeah, that's definitely the kind of record you want to break. Incredibly, in a league where the average age is 27.4, Tejada's short 2010 season in Buffalo was a solid one. His defense at short had become tremendous while he also learned to excel at second. His improbable .294 average was just shy of the International League's Top 10. On the downside, his plate discipline still hasn't had the chance to catch up to his level as he walked only 10 times versus 28 strikeouts. But overall, the call-up to the major leagues was the first one that wasn't laughably inane and with his performance thus far we're seeing why.
Some people may look at all this and say "Hey, the Mets were right. Tony B. somehow knew Tejada could be pushed and it worked out". But the lesson to learn here is that the ends don't justify the means. Yes, it worked with Tejada. Somehow it miraculously worked but it was despite the best efforts of the Mets, not because of them. We got lucky. Period. For every success story like this is a kid like current Mets farmers Richard Lucas or Juan Lagares who end up losing years of development for having been pushed too hard. SB Nation prospect Guru John Sickels stated "(the Mets) tend to rush their Latin American signees very fast. I'm not sure that's the right strategy with every player." More visible examples are top prospects Fernando Martinez and Jenrry Mejia, both having briefly reached the peak only to stumble back down as a result of poor foundations. Even Tejada himself still shows flaws in his game (namely his plate discipline) that were once strengths and with more time to develop might still be.
Either way we should all rejoice now that we're free of Tony Bernazard's tyranny and even better, Omar actually brought in someone with a clue as the new Minor league Field Coordinator, Terry Collins. What does Collins think about all this?
"We’re going to try to slow the process down just a bit. I know everybody wants to rush players to the big leagues. I think that can be a hindrance as much as it can be a help....So when the time is right, we’re going to challenge them. But to put them over their heads right now and let them drown, I don’t think that’s fair."
-from this recent Q& A with NJ.com
Music to my ears.