After it was discovered that Jose Reyes would miss several weeks of spring training and Opening Day due to a thyroid problem, the 20-year-old Ruben Tejada was suddenly thrust into a big-league job – with backup from wily veteran Alex Cora.
In truth, Tejada was nowhere near ready for prime-time, despite the hoopla provided by the Omar Minaya Prospect Hype Machine. Tejada displayed some raw skills that suggested he might some day develop into a solid defensive player, and occasional glimpses that he might one day hit enough to justify a spot on an MLB roster. Even after 78 games in the bigs, the jury is still out on whether or not Tejada truly belonged there, and no one is sure if he’ll ever be more than a utilityman. I said it many times before and I’ll say it again: right now, Ruben Tejada resembles Anderson Hernandez at a similar age, and projects to be a similar player in the future.
People who are enthralled with the idea of “homegrown Mets” don’t like to hear that, but the truth is, AHern has been a big leaguer for six years – that’s no small feat. It’s all about perspective; if you are of the ilk that Tejada is poised to be a future All-Star, then you might deem my evaluation as a slap in the face; on the other hand, if you have seen other 20-year-old infielders, and are realistic about the difficulties associated with reaching and staying in the bigs, you can understand my conservative position.
What I saw from Tejada in 2010 was a kid who has soft hands, good feet, and a strong throwing arm. From what I saw he looks like he has the overall skills to be an average to above-average MLB shortstop. Not an Ozzie Smith, Rey Ordonez, or even Jose Oquendo, but rather, something along the lines of a young Edgar Renteria or Cristian Guzman – and that’s not too shabby. That’s what his skillset tells me, not his performance. To me it looks like he can do a better job on both ends of the double play, he needs to be more consistent with his fielding mechanics, and his throwing accuracy from multiple angles needs more development. Additionally – and as with just about all young infielders – he needs to learn when to hold the ball and when to eat it; that comes only with experience.
At the plate, Tejada was abysmal, hitting .213 with a .305 OBP and a .588 OPS. Again, evidence that he had no business in MLB – he was clearly overmatched and lacking in confidence. His swing mechanics varied greatly from at-bat to at-bat, and sometimes from pitch to pitch. I’m guessing that he either was in the midst of changing his swing, or simply raw and without guidance on what he should be doing (not unlike a young pitcher who changes his arm angles from pitch to pitch). Either way, once he figures out what to do with his head, hands, hips, and feet, he then has to learn an approach. Maybe he can develop both at the same time, though that’s difficult – it’s hard to think and hit at the same time.
I don’t see Tejada playing in MLB in 2011, even if injuries open up a middle infield spot, as the Alderson-led front office has no motivation to put youngsters in the bigs to save their job or falsely “prove” that the Mets farm system is capable of producing big leaguers. The truth is, another year in MLB won’t help Tejada nearly as much as a full season in AA or AAA, where he can develop his skills and confidence away from the bright lights and pressure of pro ball in New York City. The kid is only 21 years old and has plenty of time to polish his game – and showed enough of a skill set to believe that he could one day develop into a Major Leaguer. He’s not unlike Jose Oquendo, who was similarly overmatched as a 19-year-old in 1983. Oquendo spent a half-year in the minors in ’84 and then a full season of AA in ’85 honing his overall game before becoming “The Secret Weapon” for Whitey Herzog in the late ‘80s. It’s possible that a similar career path would do wonders for Tejada’s future.