Can We Expect Ruben Tejada to Continue Improving?

By Matt Musico

Coming into 2012, Ruben Tejada had a tall task at hand. He was not only taking over the starting shortstop job for the New York Mets, but he was the man filling that position after Jose Reyes left town to take his talents to South Beach. For a fan base that has had five straight (at the time) tough seasons to watch, seeing Jose walk out with his NL batting title in hand made the winter even more painful to endure. There were plenty of doubts as to whether or not the 22-year-old would be able to duplicate the .284/.360/.335 line he produced in 2011 over the duration of an entire season. Well, he did that, and more.

Outside of injuring his quad in May, Tejada was a consistent and calming presence on the left side of the infield, standing next to David Wright. He had his fair share of sparkling plays that made fans raise their eyebrows, but it was the growth I saw at the plate that gets me excited for the future, and expecting even more heading into next year. Thanks to a late-season slump, his final line doesn’t look much different than that of 2011 (.289/.333/.351), but when you look deeper into what he did in his 464 at-bats, he took some giants leaps forward in his development as a ballplayer.

Oct. 2, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (11) at bat against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

There were two things from Tejada’s season that made me exremely happy; one was the increase of patience at the plate. As a young player up in the Major Leagues, it can be tough to showcase the kind of plate discipline he had, and it’s hard to see the true value in a player’s patience when solely looking at the number of walks they accumulated. On paper, it looks like Tejada regressed in that department, as he went down from 35 walks 328 at-bats to 27 walks in 464 at-bats. However, I think just about anyone would say the complete opposite; he consistently worked deep into counts while hitting in the leadoff spot, showing he wasn’t afraid to work through an at-bat after falling behind and letting teammates see what the opposing pitcher had to offer.

Tejada is also taking strides toward consistently making solid contact; while his fly ball rate has, for the most part, hovered around his 31.3% career average, we’ve seen a drastic dip in his ground ball rate (44.6% in ’11 to 39.7% in ’12) and a huge increase in his line drive rate (25.7% in ’11 to 30% in ’12). Being a player of his stature, he understands he won’t be hitting 10-15 homers a season, and must make his living in the spacious gaps at Citi Field. After seeing that increase in line drives hit, it was no surprise to see new career highs for doubles (26), BABIP (.339), and slugging % (.351).

After Jose left for the Marlins, Terry Collins made it a point to tell Ruben he didn’t want him to try and be like Jose, because their games are totally different. For the Mets to be successful as a team in the long run, Tejada needs to embrace who he is as a ballplayer, identify what he’s good at and what he wants to improve upon so he can be a part of the solution in Queens. That’s exactly what he’s started to do in 2012. I don’t think anyone in the organization anticipated Tejada to take such a large step forward in his development this season, but he has now set the bar high to come back and keep building upon the foundation he laid this season.

For a 23-year-old,  Tejada seems very secure in the type of ballplayer he is, and knows how to play to his strengths. We weren’t able to see that from him until he was given a chance to play every day. His instincts are tremendous, and I think that will be a crucial aspect of how he continues to grow in the years to come. After seeing what he’s capable of this year, the sky is the limit, and there is no reason to not believe Ruben Tejada will continue to get better in 2013 and beyond.