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02/18/09 10:00 AM EST

Tejada ready for Classic challenge

Mets shortstop prospect looking to gain experience with Panama

For an average 19-year-old, playing in the World Baseball Classic might seem like a daunting challenge. For Mets shortstop prospect Ruben Tejada, however, it probably won't seem as that big of a deal if he makes it.

The Panamanian middle infielder has already seen plenty of challenges in his brief professional career. At age 17, he came to the United States in 2007, playing in the Rookie Gulf Coast League to end the summer. Then the Mets, not a team shy about pushing young talent these days, sent him straight to the Florida State League for his full-season debut.

He stayed there all year and, as one might expect, it was a roller-coaster season. Tejada hit .229 in 131 games, with a .588 OPS. He also made 30 errors as he played all season in the Class A Advanced league. It was nothing the Mets didn't expect and the organization was quite pleased with how their 18-year-old shortstop handled himself.

"He responded to the challenge well," Mets vice president of player development Tony Bernazard said. "That was his first full season. He responded well -- he had his ups and downs like everyone has, but he did well. Then he went to Hawaii and performed well over there as well."

Tejada got in 24 more games in Hawaii, hitting .233, again as one of the youngest players at that level of competition. But the '08 season wasn't just about numbers.

"He improved on certain areas from Spring Training to the later part of the season," Bernazard said. "We got him a little bit stronger. He was playing in a tough league, then doing all the conditioning. We wanted to get him to develop on the field and physically also."

The Mets like handing out healthy doses of adversity early to their young prospects, to let them experience it early on and measure how the players react to it. That's not to say the Mets feel Tejada is anywhere close to being polished, but that they're not worried about causing damage by continuing to push him. More than anything, Tejada simply needs to get out on the field more to hone his considerable skill set.

"He needs to play," Bernazard said. "He needs to use the whole field offensively. Defensively, like all young infielders, he has to learn to be consistent. That comes with playing experience."

Playing in the Classic could provide some more of that at a high level of competition. Just like they didn't shy away from sending him to St. Lucie, the Mets have no issues with Tejada facing much older and more advanced players in the March competition should he be named to Panama's final roster.

"When you're good, you overcome all that stuff," Bernazard said. "He played a few games at the Major League level in Spring Training last year and he held his own. He still has a lot to learn and a ways to go, but we are not that concerned that if he's picked, that it's going to hurt him. That's going to help him.

"A kid who is 19, with a lot of talent and instincts, we might see him playing against all those players if he's picked."

Other Mets on Classic rosters
3B Shawn Bowman, originally drafted back in 2002 out of a British Columbia high school, has suffered through more than his fair share of injuries. He's played in a grand total of 93 games over the past three years because of persistent back problems. But he's still only 24 and could help Team Canada -- and the Mets -- in the future.

Angel Cuan is a 19-year-old Panamanian left-hander who has yet to throw in the United States. He pitched in the Venezuelan Summer League last year and while he went just 1-8, he did lead the league in strikeouts (74 in 72 IP vs. just 11 BB) and had a 3.13 ERA.

OF Jesus Feliciano was originally drafted by the Dodgers out of Puerto Rico back in 1997. He's collected over 1,000 games played in the Minors without a single big league at-bat. He did play for Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series, perhaps a sign of good things to come for him in the Classic.

LHP Heriberto Ruelas has spent most of his career pitching in the Mexican League, amassing all but 64 of his 279 2/3 career innings there (the other 64 came in the Dominican Summer League in a brief stint with the Dodgers). He's coming off a good Winter League campaign, where he posted a 1.80 ERA in 38 relief outings. He held hitters to a .169 batting average against, but perhaps more importantly kept lefties to a .145 average.

3B Stefan Welch spent most of the 2008 season in the Appalachian League, though he got a short stint in the South Atlantic League at the end of the season. The 20-year-old Aussie hit .279 in a combined 68 games for Kingsport and Savannah.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.