It is sometimes very difficult to pinpoint the exact moment a player stops being a prospect and starts being a major league-ready player but clearly Ruben Tejada had that moment during this past season. Injuries forced him to play both second base and shortstop and despite playing well, he was sent down during the season when those injured players returned simply because he had options. But Tejada never sulked-he simply worked at becoming a better player and once he returned to the big leagues, Jose Reyes was there to help him every step of the way.
"Jose taught me so many things about defense and putting yourself in the best possible position to make a play", says Tejada, "and spent so much time with both Justin Turner and myself on how to be prepared to make the right play."
Certainly, Tejada has a smoothness to his defensive game that few young players possess and has the arm strength to turn the double play in very much the same way Edgardo Alfonzo did for the Mets a decade ago. "Tejada has the knack to do that," says Alfonzo, " but more than that, he has a confidence in his defensive game that you need at this level."
It was the offensive part of his game that needed to improve and for advice on that, Tejada went to the NL Batting champion. "Reyes told me to always be aggressive at the plate", says Tejada, "but don't be foolish. I learned that with two strikes you can foul off tough pitches and maybe the next pitch will be easier to hit. And when you are ahead in the count, you must be ready to attack the ball."
When you look at the season Reyes had, that piece of advice he gave Tejada illustrates why Jose has become such a better hitter and he wanted to impart that advice to Tejada at a time when he was learning on-the job at the big league level.
So where does Tejada think he will be playing next year? Shortstop? Second Base? First and foremost, Tejada wants Reyes to stay but does not take anything for granted. "I want Jose to be here next year but whether he is or not, I have to continue to get better. Turner is a very good player and deserves playing time as well but I must be focused on making myself a better player -- getting stronger so I can hit for a high average as well as help with my glove."
The thing that impresses me most about Tejada is that he is mature beyond his years. He is a confident young player but is not afraid to ask for help and has a high degree of humility when talking about himself. I do think the Mets discovered that he is as good as any other NL second basemen defensively and a DP combo of Reyes/Tejada would really help a pitching staff that, for the most part, pitches to contact. Offensively, he is a work in progress but showed real flashes this past year in two specific areas. He was an outstanding 2 strike hitter and very good with runners in scoring position.
Clearly, Ruben Tejada is the Mets second basemen of 2012 and could be the shortstop if Jose Reyes leaves. But my sense is Jose Reyes and Ruben Tejada will be the double play combination for the Mets for years to come.
What's Tejada's role on the 2012 Mets? Leave a comment below.