By Rich Coutinho
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Jenrry Mejia was one of the Mets’ top prospects just 12 short months ago, but a lame-duck manager misused and at times abused his young arm.

Jerry Manuel knew his job was on the line. He knew Mejia was more talented than most of the pitchers in his 2010 bullpen. Someone in the organization should have said “no” to Manuel (and Omar Minaya, who was also on the hot seat) — the risk of using him as the set-up guy was far greater than the reward.

Watching Mejia in spring training last year, you could see his stuff was intoxicating. But as I said at the time, you had to resist bringing him north. He was far too valuable a chip to use in relief if the plan was for Mejia to be a starter in the 2012 rotation. One of the voices in the organization who tried to dissuade bringing Mejia to the big club was Dan Warthen.

Warthen saw the big picture but was vetoed by a staff that knew it was win or bust for them. Now, I am no pitching coach, but I always thought Mejia was a bit too raw for the majors and needed better command of his secondary pitches.

In order to get that command, he needed to be pitching every 5th day on the minor league level, much in the same way Dillon Gee was used last season in the Mets’ minor league system. Not only was Mejia not allowed to pitch every 5th day, he was asked to serve as a mop-up man, sometimes going 7 days without pitching in a game. Then, when Manuel had no more use for him, he was jettisoned to the minors and stretched out to be a starter.

Nobody will ever convince me that doing that did not grease the skids for him— effectively landing Mejia in the Tommy John operating room.

That’s the danger in allowing people with limited job security to make big, long-term decisions. The major league rosters are littered with prospects who end up on the scrap heap — and that’s after they’ve been given every resource to succeed. Mejia was hamstrung from the start and now is facing a long road back. Granted, the success rate of Tommy John surgery is outstanding, but there are no guarantees Mejia will rebound. Some pitchers never make it back and others may take up to 18 months before they even approach pre-injury velocity.

This could have all been avoided if the Mets used some restraint and stuck to the original plan. They should have labeled Mejia a starter for 2012 and treated him as such.

I get the sense that the present management team will take the proper route and learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. This becomes doubly important if the perception is true that this group will develop more talent than it acquires via free agency. J. P. Ricciardi and Sandy Alderson certainly have a good track record of nurturing prospects and not abusing them. That is sometimes a slippery slope when operating in New York, a “win now” city, but prospects need to be treated with kid gloves, whether you plan on keeping them or trading them for veteran players.

All you have to do is look at Jenrry Mejia’s MRI. That’s all the evidence you need. Restraint with top prospects is always the best road to travel.

Do you also blame Manuel for Mejia’s injury? Sound off in the comments below…

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