Although the 2014 season started merely hours ago, the Mets already boast a strong pitching rotation, even with the loss of wunderkind Matt Harvey.
After Dillon Gee’s strong Opening Day start, the rest of the deep staff includes Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese and Mejia. Mejia beat out Daisuke Matsuzaka for the fifth rotation spot in spring training.
On paper, a player like Mejia who wins the final spot in the rotation at the tail end of spring training is likely not a strong pitcher.
But Mejia won the spot, despite a very strong spring from Matsuzaka himself. Mejia showed this spring that he is becoming physically and mentally polished as a starting pitcher, finishing with a 2.70 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 13.1 innings.
At first, many did not believe Mejia was a top talent due to his small frame at just 6'0".
But Mejia has blossomed into a smooth, athletic and commanding player. He has a powerful overhand pitching motion, resulting in an unhittable natural cutter with each fastball.
Mejia’s secondary pitches have become much more effective strikeout pitches over the years, and they will continue to improve as Mejia reaches his potential. Keith Law of ESPN believes Mejia has No. 2 starter stuff if he can stay healthy.
Ultimately, though, there is one reason why Mejia is poised to become a dark-horse ace this season: He is battle-tested.
When Mejia was 20, he was the crown jewel and the youngest pitcher on a Mets Opening Day roster since Dwight Gooden.
Since then, he has been tossed between the majors and minors numerous times over the years as the organization decided whether Mejia is a starter or reliever. Then Mejia needed Tommy John surgery in 2011. He dealt with constant setbacks and months upon months of rehab during and after the recovery.
Last season, a healthy Mejia showed something that he never consistently showed in his career—mound presence. Not surprisingly, Mejia also dominated in those five starts, finishing with a 2.30 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 27 strikeouts and just four walks in 27.1 innings.
Unfortunately, Mejia gave in to getting surgery shortly after his fifth start on bone spurs he knowingly pitched through.
Pitchers who endure this amount of toughness have character. They have suffered through the rehab and isolation. These players are also generally in the latter half of their careers, having put years of wear and tear on their arms.
But Mejia’s age? 24.
At such a young age, Mejia has already been through a career’s worth of trials and tribulations. Conceivably, the hardships have made him mentally stronger than many seasoned veterans.
Moreover, Mejia looked sharp on his season debut. Against a deep Cincinnati Reds lineup, Mejia allowed just four hits and one earned run in 6.0 innings, along with a stellar eight strikeouts. Interestingly, Mejia also gave up an uncharacteristically high five walks that game (Mejia had just four walks in 27.1 innings with the Mets last year). He only issued two walks over his final two spring-training starts, so the elevated walk total likely will not be a common issue going forward.