MMO Minors Mailbag: Familia/Mejia – Starters Or Relievers

Aaron W. asks…

Who is the better starter between Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia? Is one better than the other? Are they starters or relievers in your opihion?

Sean replies...

The Jeurys Familia/Jenrry Mejia question will loom large in 2013, and honestly – there aren’t many accurate answers. Familia had a mixed season, and despite his ERA his control did in fact improve as the season went on, going down from 22 walks in 21.2 April innings, to 12 walks in 33.2 innings in August. The stuff is there, and a key fact to remember is Familia didn’t begin pitching until he was 16, as where prospects like Jon Niese had been drafted with years of experience – at 18.

Jenrry Mejia has been bounced around and had his progress butchered by consistently moving from the rotation to the bullpen. His 2011 season was cut short by TJ surgery, and as with most TJ survivors, the control is the last thing to return. Mejia’s control in the minors wasn’t horrible – but the strikeouts vanished. Mejia has a special fastball with so much natural movement, but he will always be wild regardless of release point. In his two starts for the Mets in 2012, he allowed four runs on ten hits, while walking four and striking out seven.

Both pitchers struggle with a defined secondary pitch and a changeup, but when thrown properly Mejia’s curve trumps Familia’s slurvy offering. However, the difference in their fastballs is the different actions. Familia with a true power-sinker style fastball has strong movement on the vertical plane, and Mejia’s cutter has strong movement on the horizontal plane.

To cut this short and get to the question – I think Familia can work as a starter due to his size (6’4, 230) and ability to miss bats despite control. Familia may never be a front-line starter, but has more upside. Mejia gets a mulligan for his control in 2012, but if he regains that control and still has a low strikeout rate, his value will be entirely tied to his ability to coax weak contact via the fastball.

Bottom Line: Familia will spend his 2013 season refining some things in the minors in hopes of starting in the majors, while Mejia – with a strong spring training – could win a job in the Mets bullpen.