Ruben Tejada provided some comments for us as we sit here anxiously for pitchers and catchers to report. It’s only six days away, but still feels like eternity. One of the things he discussed was the time he’s spent working out with Jose Reyes in Garden City. Originally supposed to train with him for a bigger part of the winter, Tejada wasn’t able to arrive in New York until January 24th due to Hurricane Sandy ruining his lodging plans. The 23-year-old shortstop said his main focus while with Reyes was learning how to be more of a threat on the bases, aiding him in being more valuable in the lead-off spot.
Tejada has never been known as a fast runner, only stealing four bases in eight attempts last season. Has he gained speed by working out with Jose for approximately three weeks? Absolutely not. However, even though he doesn’t possess the raw ability to be an elite base stealer, Jose has been in the league long enough to show Ruben what he can do to improve by using his head and instincts, which he flashed numerous times in 2012.
There are many skills he can acquire with the right amount of work, such as learning how to read pitchers on the rubber, how to get a quicker first step, and how to accelerate to top speed in less steps. These will allow him to appear quicker, giving him more confidence to swipe a bag or take an extra base, forcing the opposition to think twice when he reaches base. Being a good lead-off hitter isn’t limited to just stealing bases, but knowing when the right time is to be aggressive.
Why should Terry Collins be writing Tejada’s name at the top of the lineup card every night (assuming Michael Bourn isn’t signed)? He has the ability to work a count, he can get on base at a more than decent clip, and with his lack of power, he’d be a more useful part of the lineup if he’s utilized as a table-setter instead of the number-eight hitter.
Tejada’s pitch per plate appearance rate hovered around the 3.80 league average in 2012, but there were numerous occasions when I watched Tejada work a pitcher deep into a count. Also, don’t let his 5.4% BB-rate and .333 OBP from last season fool you; Ruben has the ability and skill set to draw walks close to 10% of the time and have an OBP between .360 and .370, which is what he did 96 games for New York in 2011. Ruben has been around for so long that we forget he’s only 23. He made great strides in his first full season as an everyday player, and the sky is the limit for him as we move into the future.
Before his end-of-the-season slump, he showed he can get on base enough to set the table in front of hitters like Daniel Murphy, David Wright, and Ike Davis, but his only knock was that he didn’t have speed. If he gained some quickness and wisdom during his time with Jose, he’ll become a more productive lead-off hitter, and the Mets lineup more dynamic this year because of it.