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New York Mets: Can Jenrry Mejia Prove Himself in 2014?

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COMMENTARY | The 2014 season is a pivotal one for Jenrry Mejia's career.

Last year, he proved he could be an effective major league starter in 27.1 innings of work before he went on the disabled list.

Now, the Mets want Mejia to win the last spot in the starting rotation this spring in Port St. Lucie.

Jorge Castillo of The Star-Ledger reported that his rehab from surgery to remove bone chips in his throwing elbow is currently on track. The right-hander hasn't thrown a bullpen yet, but is long-tossing without discomfort from over 100 feet away.

Mejia left for Port St. Lucie on February 2, and he will have plenty of pitchers competing with him for the last open spot in the Mets' starting rotation. Prospects Jacob deGrom and Rafael Montero will get a chance in big league camp. Minor league free agents Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan have been signed to join this competition, as well.

Mets fans have heard Mejia's name for quite some time -- since 2007, to be exact. Despite him being around for the last seven years, he's still only 24 years old. He's dealt with quite a lot over that time.

The organization couldn't decide whether or not to use him as a starter or reliever in the big leagues, switching his role multiple times. The misuse of this once top prospect led to him getting Tommy John surgery in 2011.

Another year removed from surgery, Mejia showed his growth as a pitcher in his small sample of work with New York in 2013. The Mets let him stay in the starting rotation, and he rewarded them with a 1-2 record, 2.30 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. He struck out 27 hitters, while walking just four.

He had a lot more confidence in his slider, throwing it 24.3% of the time. There was some extra bite on that pitch that wasn't there in 2012, and that can be attributed to him continuing to progress from Tommy John surgery.

What Mejia showed in 2013 that he hadn't in previous years was an ability to control his pitches and minimize the amount of walks allowed. He threw a first-pitch strike 60.7% of the time and generated a 12.7% swinging strike rate, both career-highs.

New York made a mistake trying to rush Mejia to the major leagues in 2010 when it needed bullpen arms. The repercussions of the Mets' actions were immediate when he went under the knife the following year. Entering his mid-20s, Mejia's abbreviated 2013 performance has squashed any doubts about he should be used moving forward.

His growth and development as a pitcher has matured to the point where he now sees the value in taking some velocity off his pitches in favor of getting the ball over the plate. During his stints with the Mets in 2010 and 2012, his fastball was reaching 94 or 95 mph, and he was throwing it over 70% of the time.

In 2013, his velocity dropped to 92.1, throwing it 58.6% of the time. He realizes he doesn't have to throw as hard as possible to get a hitter out, and has confidence to throw his secondary pitches.

This maturation sounds similar to the path Bobby Parnell has taken in recent years.

If Mejia shows this type of promise in Port St. Lucie, he will easily win the final rotation spot over the likes of Dice-K and Lannan. However, his next hurdle will be to stay healthy.

In his professional career, Mejia hasn't thrown more than 108.2 innings in a single season, which happened in 2012. If he's given a limit of about 140 innings pitched, he probably wouldn't be able to finish the 2014 season. With the time he is given on the mound, he must maximize it.

This is a crucial year for young right-hander. It's his first real chance to be a starter in the big leagues at the start of a season. Also, his arbitration years are set to start at the end of 2015 -- if he expects to get a significant raise in pay, he needs to start building his value now.

It seems like many Mets officials are pulling for Mejia to come out of camp as the fifth starter. After everything he's been through in his career, he deserves the chance. However, New York is going to make him earn it, which will hopefully help his development in the end.

Sources:

Baseball Reference: player statistics and contract information

FanGraphs: advanced player statistics

The Star-Ledger: Report on Mejia's rehab

Matt Musico's Mets opinion has been featured on MLB Trade Rumors, Bleacher Report, MetsBlog, Amazin' Avenue and Mets Merized Online. To keep up with Matt, you can follow him on Twitter.

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