Well, New York Mets manager Terry Collins has got what he wanted, as more than a week before position players are required to report to spring training, Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada has arrived in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Last year, Collins was disappointed that Tejada didn’t arrive early to camp to prepare to take over as the starting shortstop and work with new double-play partner Daniel Murphy. As blown out of proportion as that incident became, Collins can now rest easy knowing that his starting shortstop is in camp early and ready to get better.
To his credit, Tejada had a fine season playing shortstop of the Mets in 2012. Having to take over the position previously held by 2011 National League batting champion Jose Reyes was no easy task, but Tejada assumed the position admirably, and resisted the temptation to play outside himself. He quickly proved himself capable of making all the defensive plays necessary to play shortstop in the big leagues, while also handling the bat, with a line of .289/.333/.351. When asked, he even took over the Mets leadoff spot out of necessity, and did the best he could in an unfamiliar role. But as good as Tejada was last year, there’s plenty of areas where he can continue to get better.
By showing up early to camp, Tejada is not only sending the right message to his manager, but he is also showing a willingness to improve as a baseball player. He can start with his on-base percentage, which was noticeably lower in 2012 than it was in 2011. A player as smart and fundamentally sound as Tejada should be able to take better at bats, show more patience, and be able to take more walks, especially if he is forced to bat leadoff again. Another thing Tejada will have to improve upon, especially if he’s once again in the leadoff spot, is his base stealing. Tejada is by no means a speedster, but he should be smart enough to know when he’s able to steal a base, as well as when his team needs him to steal a base.
Tejada doesn’t have a lot of power, and although he’s slick with his glove, his range and arm at shortstop aren’t much better than average, meaning he will have to maximize his potential in other areas, using what he does have, which is intelligence, discipline, and sound fundamentals. Getting to spring training early is the first step in doing that, which Tejada has been wise to make; and as an added bonus, Collins will no doubt be pleased to see him.