This is the time during Spring Training that all Major League teams start to cut down their rosters, sending some players down to their Minor League affiliates, while others are sent on their way right out of the organization.
The funny thing about this process is that there are very few surprises as to who stays and who goes. Sometimes a young player with just a little minor league experience makes such an outstanding impression that management feels that he is ready for the big leagues and they can’t envision him not being with the parent club.
Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals comes to mind this year as he has not allowed a run in three appearances so far. It was expected that the number one overall player in last years draft would start the year perhaps even as high as AAA. He did have an advantage of playing college ball under Hall of Fame great Tony Gwynn, but still there would seem to be no real reason to rush him into the fray. It’s not like the Nationals will be in the playoff hunt this year.
On Sirius/XM Radio yesterday, Rob Dibble, who I love as a color commentator and sports talk show host, said that when he was in his first couple of years of Spring Training and he knew he wasn’t going to make the Reds big club, he actually asked the team to cut him early enough so he could get more work in at the level he would be playing at. Amazing.
For the Mets as they start their cuts, the big controversy at least among the Mets faithful, revolves around whether or not Fernando Martinez and Jenrry Mejia, the young pitching sensation, should be on the big club at the opening of the season.
It has been well chronicled that Martinez, still only 21 years old, has been the Mets best prospect for the past five years and has a history of injuries. During the injury fest of 2009 F-Mart, as he is affectionately called, had what’s known as a cup of coffee with the Mets and was not very effective with a batting average just somewhat north of 100.
He was and is still slated, according to Mets General Manager Omar Minaya, to start the season at AAA Buffalo and if he does well he should see action with the Mets no later than September 1st.
The problem is that he’s tearing the cover off the ball this spring after an excellent showing in the Caribbean World Series. Right now it looks like Angel Pagan, who had a walk off home run yesterday, will begin the season in center field until the return of perennial All Star Carlos Beltran.
Newly acquired Gary Matthews Jr. is also having a torrid spring and will definitely make the team as it’s 4th outfielder and maybe even the center fielder, again that is until Beltran’s return. If that is the case where would Martinez fit in? Personally, and what most writers and fans agree on, is that Martinez needs to play everyday and Buffalo is the obvious place for him to be.
Mejia’s situation is even more complex. From here it doesn’t look like the Mets organization has decided what their expectations are of the role that Mejia will play. Is he a starter, perhaps even a top of the rotation starter, or can he become a lights out closer?
There is a case for both sides. He can crank it up to 98 mph on the gun and is developing some pretty good secondary pitches. He has drawn favorable comparisons to Dwight Gooden who at Mejia’s age, 20, was already dominating Major League batters. That in and of itself is not too shabby.
The other comparison has been to Mariano Rivera who some are already calling the greatest closer in the history of the game. His “cutter” over the years has been practically un-hittable and his post season performances have become legendary.
Former Met and Yankee, Darryl Strawberry has said that Mejia’s “cutter” is just as good as Rivera’s and the Mets need to use him right now, this season, in the pen.
So what are the Mets to do. Jerry Manuel, not my favorite Mets manager to say the least, has said Mejia could wind up as the 8th inning specialist this year if all falls into place.
What the Mets must be concerned about is not falling into what I call the “Joba Catch”. The Yankees have perhaps marred Chamberlain’s chances for super stardom as they vacillate between having him in the bullpen and as a starter. Most pitching experts agree that the transition from starter to reliever is much easier and likely to be more successful than the other way around.
So the Mets must decide which way to go with Mejia. I just want them to make a decision either way and more importantly, stick to it. What it comes down to, as I see it, is what’s the better long term solution. You have Frankie Rodriguez as your closer for the next two years. Mejia, if on the big club, would serve as the apprentice waiting to move into the closers role in 2012 if the Mets chose not to resign K-Rod.
If he goes to the Minors he would have at least a year or maybe two to develop his arsenal of pitches and at 22 he could become the ace of the staff for the next 10 to 15 years. My opinion, which amounts to nothing more than a hill of beans, is that Mejia and Martinez need to be sent down to develop. I think that in the long run, that would give the Mets the best opportunity to compete for the playoffs for years to come.
Agree? Dis-agree? Your thoughts and comments are appreciated.