With the draft quickly approaching, it’s time to take a closer look at some of this year’s better prospects. You can check out reports on Sonny Gray, Aaron Westlake, Jason Esposito, and others here.
Possessing arguably the highest ceiling of any player in this year’s draft, Kentucky right-hander Alex Meyer shouldn’t last long come draft day.
Standing 6’9″, 220 pounds, Meyer is an imposing figure on the mound. Throw in the fact that he features a fastball that can reach the upper 90s and a nasty, fall-off-the-table slider, and it’s easy to envision Meyer anchoring a big-league rotation down the road.
With such a tantalizing combination of size and stuff, Meyer has been on scouting radars for a long time. Coming out of high school, the Red Sox were so enthralled by his potential that they took him in the 20th round and reportedly offered him $2 million to forgo his scholarship to Kentucky. Obviously part of the reason Meyer slid to the 20th round was his desire to go to Kentucky, but bonus demands weren’t the only reason Meyer slid. Scouts considered Meyer to be extremely raw and there were concerns about his command.
Those concerns appear to have been legitimate, as Meyer struggled in his first two seasons at Kentucky. While his stuff was always there, as evidenced by the fact that he racked up 143 strikeouts in his first 111 innings, the results weren’t. Meyer went 6-7 in his first two seasons with an ERA north of 6. The primary culprit was a lack of command. Meyer walked 81 in his first two seasons and hit an additional 20 hitters!
The results have been better for Meyer this year. His ERA stands at 2.94, right in line with his FIP of of 3.10. He’s still racking up strikeouts at more than a batter per inning, but the walks are down to the more reasonable level of 4.1 per 9. The improved command, combined with his electric stuff, has generated some buzz that Meyer could go as high as #6 to the Nationals.
And if you saw Meyer on Friday night against the Florida Gators, you saw everything you needed to see to justify taking Meyer in the top ten. Meyer went seven innings against a strong Gators lineup, striking out nine and walking three. In the early innings, Meyer was virtually unhittable. His fastball was routinely in the upper-90s, and his slider was absolutely devastating, featuring sharp 11-5 break, sometimes reaching as high as 88 mph. His numbers would have been even more impressive but Kentucky staked him to an big lead and in the latter innings he began working on his change-up, which has the potential to be a solid pitch, but currently lags behind his fastball and slider.
As expected, the biggest problem with Meyer was his command. Even though the results were good, his performance could aptly be qualified as “effectively wild”. He drilled Preston Tucker and his fastball routinely missed his catcher’s target. Surprisingly, Meyer showed much better command of his slider than he did with his fastball. He was able to consistently break his slider off the outside corner of the strike zone, generating a lot of swings-and-misses. While Meyer struggled with his fastball command, he appeared much more comfortable throwing away from right-handers than he did coming inside.
While Meyer has made strides in refining his command since high school, it will be hard for him to ever have even average command. His arms are simply so long that it’s difficult for him to keep everything in sync. His arm action is long in the back, and I think the somewhat unorthodox delivery will makes it especially difficult for Meyer to command the ball. Meyer will also have to make strides to control the running game, as the length in the back of his delivery causes him to be slow to the plate.
When it comes right down to it, I don’t envy the scouting directors picking in the 6-12 range who will have to make the call on Meyer. He has the size and stuff to be an absolute force in a big-league rotation, and he’s made encouraging strides over the last three years, but he’s still raw. While he could be great, you can see him as the type of pitcher who’s lack of command forces a move to the pen. While his fastball-slider combination could make him a shutdown closer, in this highly regarded a draft class, you’re probably looking for more value out of a top-10 pick.
From a stuff perspective he rates slightly higher than Vanderbilt starter Sonny Gray, but when push-comes-to-shove, I’d rate rate Gray’s complete package slightly higher than Meyer.
Other Players of Note:
Preston Tucker* (COF, Florida)- The left-handed hitting Tucker was unfazed by Meyer’s big-time velocity, hitting several balls hard, including a double. Named to the freshman All-American team in 2009, Tucker has had a solid career for the Gators. Employing a short, compact swing, Tucker makes lots of contact, striking out in under 11 percent of his at-bats, a good number for a power hitter. I do have concerns that Tucker may be too geared towards pulling the ball, as there were times when he seemed to be hitting as if everything to the third-base side of second was a foul ball. With a such a pull-oriented approach, Tucker could struggle against left-handers, especially left-handers with good breaking balls. The biggest obstacle facing Tucker is that he will likely be limited to first base or left field in pro ball, so to provide value he’s going to have to hit, and hit for power. At only 6’0″, Tucker doesn’t have a typical power hitters frame, and it remains to be seen whether he will be able to produce the power numbers teams expect from corner players. All in all, Tucker is solid college bat who shouldn’t last past the 5th round.