A little over halfway through the season, question marks still surround most of the Mets’ young players. Is Ike Davis an All-Star, or a low-average hitter prone to long slumps? Is Lucas Duda a 30-100 guy, or just a dreadful fielder without the pop to make up for it? Can Kirk Nieuwenhuis handle big league pitching? Is Jordany Valdespin an answer?
And yet, meanwhile, the kid who entered the year with the biggest, speediest shoes to fill — a player of whom not much was expected — has answered every question about his game with a giant exclamation point.
Ruben Tejada, 22, is for real. In fact, he’s so for real that only one other position player on the team — David Wright — is more valuable. (It’s true, check the WAR numbers.) He’s so for real that the Mets’ left side of the infield, it could be argued, has been even better this year than the Marlins’, the one with Hanley Ramirez and that ex-Met Jose Reyes.
Tejada’s defense has been stellar, especially lately, when he’s made tough play after tough play with smoothness and poise. He has a .979 fielding percentage, and his 0.6 UZR (ultimate zone rating), though not eye-popping, ranks him in the top half among MLB shortstops. For context, Reyes’ fielding percentage is .972, and his UZR is negative 3. (Derek Jeter‘s UZR is negative 12.7. Just so you know.)
At the plate, Tejada has displayed patience and maturity beyond his years, consistently working counts and battling with two strikes. Since coming off the DL, he has been a line drive machine, hitting .368 to raise his average to .329 and his on-base percentage to .382, the highest of any starting shortstop in baseball.
Despite missing more than six weeks with a quad injury, Tejada has exceeded all expectations, much like the Mets have in 2012. The beauty is that — again, like the Mets — he still has so much room to grow.
Ruben has stolen just one base this season, probably due in part to his fragile quad. But he undoubtedly runs well enough, and is smart enough, to swipe 15 to 20 bases. With a little training (I’m looking at you, Rickey Henderson) and good health, he should be able to add base stealing to his arsenal.
As he fills out, some more power should come too. Tejada hasn’t hit a home run since 2010, and if he didn’t hit another for the rest of his career, it wouldn’t be too big a deal. But he’s young. He’s going to get stronger, and that will not only lead to the occasional long ball, but it will lead to an increase in extra-base hits as well.
The bottom line is that Ruben Tejada has the potential to become an All-Star — not in five years, but much sooner.
At 22, he’s already playing like one.