by Ray Kuhn
Fantasy owners are always looking for the next big thing. The offseason is filled with searches for the sleepers or the young players who are ready to break out in the upcoming season. This is especially critical at positions such as shortstop, where position scarcity is an issue.
That brings us to the Mets’ Ruben Tejada? Just because he is only 23 and potentially the leadoff hitter for the Mets, is he a sleeper candidate? Or is he just a young shortstop that will hit for a pretty good average and not contribute much else?
Tejada made his major league debut in 2010 and his at bats have increased each season (from 255 to 376 to 501) while his batting average has as well (from .213 to .284 to .289). Looking at that, along with the fact that the Mets could pencil him in to bat leadoff, would give cause for optimism. However that optimism soon starts to diminish.
In 114 games last season Tejada only stole 4 stolen bases. Aside from needing to make up for his lack of power, you are going to need more speed from your middle infielder than that. The problem is that there is nothing in his history to suggest that he will start racking up stolen bases (despite the cliches that are being thrown around this offseason). His only base stealing success of note was in 2009 when he was in Double-A and stole 19 bases in 134 games. Perhaps if Tejada is fully healthy, and especially if he is leading off, he should steal more than 4 bases but projecting him for anything more than 12-15 is overzealous (and even 15 would be highly optimistic) and likely will cause you to overpay for him.
Part of the problem with Tejada’s lack of stolen bases is not as much his speed, but his opportunities. He did hit .289 last season, and with not much power he found himself often on first base but that is about it for his on base skills. Last season he only walked 27 times in 501 plate appearances. which is actually a step back from 2011 when he walked 35 times in 376 plate appearances. Either way unless Tejada makes some drastic changes at the plate and becomes a lot more patient, he does not appear to be capable of materially increasing his walks.
Unlike other players that do not walk often, for Tejada his strikeouts (73 last season) are not a huge cause for concern. So, he makes a lot of contact and does not walk but he also does not hit power. Last season he hit 1 home run, and I would not expect much more from him unless he really changes his approach.
To be honest you shouldn’t want Tejada to change his approach. Last season he hit fly balls 30.3% of the time so the culprit here is just lack of power. It is important to remember that he is only 23 years old so it is possible that he still has some developing to do. What causes me to have optimism is that his line drive rate rose last season to 30%.
Even if there is a slight regression here, his line drive in 2011 was 25.7%, Tejada still hits a good amount of line drives. This certainly leaves some room for growth and at least bodes well for him to hit for a good average and perhaps add some more RBI and extra base hits. It is even possible that eventually some of those line drives could turn into home runs.
I am not advocating drafting Tejada as a starter in any formats but the deepest ones, however he is still a player you should keep an eye on. Since he has been around for so long now, you tend to forget that he is still young and has some growing to do. Even if everything falls right for Tejada, I’m still not sure his ceiling is anything more than .300, 5 HR, 55 RBI, 65 R, and 10 SB. Although it’s possible, it’s far from likely.
What are your thoughts of Tejada? Do you think he can develop? Why or why not?
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