The New York Mets have long had a reputation for rushing their very best prospects. Both Jose Reyes and Fernando Martinez made it to the majors before they were even allowed to have a beer legally, and while most of their prospects don't make it quite that fast, the Mets have rarely gone one level at a time with their most talented youngsters.
Things have changed little this season, as the team has continued to call up its best prospects at a borderline alarming rate. It started with the decision to place the team's best pitching prospect, 20-year-old right-hander Jenrry Mejia, in the big league club's bullpen in spite of the fact that it's just his third season professionally and he has just 44 innings of experience above Single-A. By most accounts, Mejia has the makings of an ace with the proper development. Keith Law rated him as the game's No. 23 prospect, saying of him, "If the Mets slow him down a little and let him spend all of 2010 (and maybe some of 2011) in the minors to improve his command and the consistency of his changeup and curve, they have a chance for a No. 1 or No. 2 starter."
Well, to put things simply, not only did the Mets not slow Mejia's progession through the minors, they actually managed to speed it up. We've seen a lot of ink (pixels?) spilled over this already, but it can't really be stressed enough: you just don't call up a potential ace to become a relief pitcher on a fringe contender when he still needs to work on his command and offspeed stuff. Mejia can definitely help the Mets this year as a reliever, but not nearly as much as he could help them in the future as a starter.
Considering the Mets' rough start, they're already four games back of Philadelphia and in last place, you'd think that they'd stop messing with the development of their most talented young players. But the word going around today is that with the designation of first baseman Mike Jacobs for assignment, the Mets are going to call up Ike Davis, the team's top hitting prospect, to take over at first base with the big league team some time in the next week.
Davis, 23, is currently in Triple-A after a breakout season in Double-A last year, ranks No. 64 on Law's top 100 list. Law praised Davis for his plus raw power and patient approach against right-handed pitching, but acknowledged that Davis still has a lot of flaws before being ready to play in the majors. In late January, Law said of Davis, "A full year in Double-A/Triple-A to work on pitch recognition and on improving his approach against left-handers is probably critical for his future as an everyday player, but he has a chance to be an above-average one if he can shed the "platoon player" tag with more reps."
Last season, Davis posted a 1.000 OPS against RHP compared to a .672 mark against LHP, with signficantly less power and significantly higher strikeout numbers against the latter group. Even with some serious improvement over the winter, it's tough to believe that Davis is ready to play full-time in the majors, and it's highly unlikely that he'll ever figure out lefties without more experience in the minor leagues. Yeah, Davis is probably better than Jacobs or Daniel Murphy right now, but once again we this team retarding the development of a potential star-quality player.
Davis had a really great year split between Single-A and Double-A last season, and the impression that he gave this spring in big league camp was nothing short of impressive. But this is a first base prospect with 669 professional at-bats under his belt and some very legitimate concerns about his ability to hit offspeed stuff and left-handed pitching. He seems highly likely to be New York's first baseman of the future, but there's a good chance that he'll never be able to make the proper adjustments against left-handed pitchers and/or pitchers with great offspeed stuff, seriously limiting his potential value to the club.
In the past, we've seen desperate front office regimes call up their team's best young players in final attempts to revive their ailing franchises, and these maneuvers look no different. Davis might actually be New York's best internal option at first base, which makes the move at least somewhat defensible (unlike the Mejia ordeal), but this reflects a startling pattern of forcing relatively unprepared prospects into big league duty prematurely. For a team that essentially refuses to go over slot in the draft, it certainly compounds the problem when you don't let the guys that you do draft develop properly. Two of the biggest problems with this team are the lack of starting pitching and the overall lack of depth in the organization, and moves like this are a big part of the reason why.