There’s a lot of debate on how teams should handle young starting pitchers.  Is it a good idea to get their feet wet in a Major League bullpen? 

There is history of the idea working well, but you don’t have to look further then Joba Chamberlain to find detractors of the philosophy.

While that wasn’t the only issue with the way Chamberlain was handled, it certainly was a factor.  That’s why it was interesting to see the debate rage on with the Yankees cross-town rivals in 2010, as the Mets debated on how they should handle Jenrry Mejia

Did they want to use him in the Major League bullpen or did he have more long-term value in the minor leagues, working as a starting pitcher?

They opted to give him a taste of the Major Leagues, starting him in the bullpen where he had mixed results (3.25 ERA over 27.2 innings). 

By the end of June the team decided to send him back to the minor leagues and stretch him back out as a starting pitcher. 

He looked great in nine starts (42.1 innings), pitching across four levels to the tune of a 1.28 ERA and 45 Ks.  Unfortunately, two separate arm injuries put a damper on his success. 

He suffered from a strained rotator cuff while being stretched out at Double-A, and then when he was recalled to the Major Leagues to join the starting rotation in September, he again strained a muscle in his shoulder, ending his season prematurely.

Were the injuries caused by his lack of work over the first two plus months of the season?  It’s impossible to answer that question, but you had better be sure that skeptics will point to that as the cause.

Either way, you have to think that his days of being considered for the bullpen are behind him.  If he breaks camp with the Mets as part of the rotation or not is a different question, but that will be determined by the offseason moves of new General Manager Sandy Alderson. 

At 21 years old, Mejia certainly will be one of the candidates for a spot.

He didn’t impress in September, posting a 7.94 ERA in three starts (11.1 innings).  During that time he had five strikeouts and five walks, though one of those starts did come against the Phillies.

Prior to the season, Baseball America ranked Mejia as the Mets top prospect saying:

“Mejia’s fastball ranges from 90-96 mph, and it hit 98 on a handful of occasions in 2009. 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 induces a lot of groundouts and broken bats.

“They’re asking me if it’s a slider,” said Josh Thole, who caught Mejia with Binghamton. “I said, ‘It’s 94 (mph), guys. I don’t think that’s a slider.’ ” Mejia’s changeup is a plus pitch at times, resembling a splitter with its 81-84 velocity and drop.”

The problem is that his slider, which is his third pitch, still needs more work.  That’s one of the reasons why he needed innings in the minor leagues and his time spent in the Majors may have stunted his growth.

During his minor league career, he’s posted a 2.68 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 8.8 K/9.  He has an electric fastball and has the stuff to develop into a tremendous option for both the Mets and fantasy owners, but he needs time to develop. 

The Mets would be best served to start him in the minor leagues again in 2011 and let him continue to get innings under his belt.  He hasn’t even thrown 250 professional innings since being signed out of the Dominican Republic.

Those in deeper leagues can draft him to stash him for the second half, but chances are he’s still a year or two away from making a fantasy impact.

What are your thoughts on Mejia?  Should he open 2011 with the Major League club?  Could he make an impact in 2011?

Make sure to check out our other Prospect Reports as we wrap up 2010 and head towards 2011:


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