There is little doubt that the Mets' most valuable pitcher who's injured is Johan Santana. And maybe their best prospect among their minor league arms is Matt Harvey, who made his professional debut this year.
For now, though, Jenrry Mejia was the next best hope and was maybe just one struggling starter away from a spot in the major league rotation. But Mejia now is another question mark, trying to find his way back from injury.
It is hard to find a silver lining when one of your top prospects is facing season-ending surgery, but the Mets tried to look at the bright side for Mejia as the hard-throwing right-hander faces likely Tommy John surgery. Mejia was examined by Mets physician Dr. David Altchek and will get a second opinion -- not expected until early next week. If he has to have the surgery he could be back for the start of the 2012 season, not a huge blow to the career of the 21-year-old pitcher.
"Anytime you lose a prospect like that, it hurts," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. "Now, given the fact that he was close and he was here last year and he's somebody that we expected to see maybe late this year, certainly next year, this throws that timetable off completely. I think the fact that he was close to being able to help us, maybe in a significant way, here in New York, that makes it a little more difficult. But at the same time if it was going to go maybe it's better that it goes now and not three years from now when he's pitching in the big leagues and he's somebody we're absolutely relying on."
Mejia got a taste of the major leagues last year, which left a bad taste in the mouths of many Mets fans. He made the Mets' roster out of spring training as a bullpen arm. But as he struggled after having had little experience, even in the minors, his role became less and less until he was finally sent back to the minors to ready for a rotation spot. He got back for three starts but again was shut down with shoulder troubles.
"I didn't see much of him because he was up here a lot of the time," said Mets manager Terry Collins, who was the organization's minor league field coordinator last year. "I saw him pitch in (Class AAA) Buffalo. You saw three plus pitches. What I wanted him to do was go get command of them. I thought if he came up here it could possibly be as a front-line starting pitcher. We had too many guys in the minor leagues last year that thought this guy was going to be a 1, 2 or 3 starter in the major leagues. I know he can come back. I know he'll come back. He's a big strong guy. I'm sure when he does we'll adjust our thought process to what he's going to be."
The role for Mejia when he returns is up for debate -- but the Mets insist that they won't bother debating that just yet. Just 21 years old, he has already endured shoulder troubles and now a complete tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right elbow, and there is some thought that he would be better served with a bullpen role instead of the arduous load of a starting pitcher.
"I don't think there's any reason to believe that because of Tommy John surgery he won't be able to be a starter," Alderson said. "That's something we'll look at at the time. There could be other factors, including need. There's roster status ... that kind of injury you want to see arm strength, and that comes from throwing more. We'll just wait and see. But I don't think there's any reason to believe that the injury itself will dictate how he's used."
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