Ruben Tejada is by no means suddenly a power hitter. Nor is he quite in the second-base race. But after making a point to take a close look at Tejada, Terry Collins has come away impressed early in camp with how much stronger Tejada looks compared with last season, and the level of contact he's making at the plate.
"He’s not hitting the ball out of the ballpark like Ike [Davis] or Nick [Evans] or David [Wright], but I’ll tell you what, he’s putting as good a swing on the baseball as anybody in this camp," Collins said. "As Sandy [Alderson] said yesterday, 'We’ve got a guy who we know can play second base.' If his bat comes, he may be that guy, who knows?"
New York Mets
Collins backtracked from that statement when asked if Tejada should be given the same level of consideration as Brad Emaus, Daniel Murphy, Luis Castillo and Justin Turner for the Opening Day second base assignment.
"No, he’s not in that mix. He’s not in that race," said Collins, who plans to have Tejada play shortstop at Triple-A Buffalo, just as he plans to have Jenrry Mejia in that International League team's rotation.
Collins went on to explain that he needs a bona fide fallback option if Jose Reyes were to land on the disabled list or otherwise be unavailable for a period of time. The manager added that while Chin-lung Hu, the projected backup middle infielder, could capably fill in, you optimize performance by using someone already playing that position on an everyday basis. Collins indicated that asking Hu -- after playing only sporadically at the major league level -- to step in and be used on an everyday basis would be a lot to demand physically.
Still, Collins said, it's comforting to know Tejada could start at second base in April if the other candidates combust.
"I want him to play shortstop [at Buffalo], but we know he can play second," Collins said. "It’s not like he has to play second base here [during camp]. It all depends what those other guys look like when we start playing."
The Mets had tried to find Tejada a winter-ball home in Venezuela, but it never materialized. So Tejada worked out in his native Panama and said he added 10 pounds to his slight frame, which has been listed at 5-foot-11, 160 pounds.
Tejada, 21, had one homer in 216 at-bats in the majors last season, while starting 46 games at second base and 24 games at shortstop. In his minor league career, he has 11 homers -- and only 73 other extra-base hits -- in 1,444 at-bats.
"I worked hard this winter on my body," Tejada said. "I have like 10 pounds more. I feel good. I feel much better than last year. I feel bigger. I see the ball coming off the bat more hard."
As for shortstop versus second base, Tejada added: "My natural position is shortstop. It’s not easy, but I worked last year a lot at second base, so I feel good at both."