This article was originally published on May 17th. With Meyer’s trade to Minnesota today, we’re re-running it in order to give Twins fans a look at what they’re getting.
With rain being a scouting nemesis for much of early April, having Nationals first rounder Alex Meyer fall into my lap in Rome, Georgia after consecutive postponements was a welcome surprise. Meyer’s start marked the beginning of a three-day stretch of scouting which included four top-100 pitching prospects (Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, Nathan Eovaldi, Allen Webster), along with two former first rounders in Chris Withrow and Meyer. And while the former University of Kentucky Wildcat held his own against this group in terms of raw stuff, Meyer’s poor command pushed him to the back of the line compared to other prospects scouted that week.
Video after the jump.
Of course the fact that Meyer finished behind a handful of pitchers who had the ability to pop 97-98 MPH on the radar gun isn’t exactly a slight, but I did expect more after being thoroughly impressed by the Nationals’ prospect and his fastball/slider heavy arsenal during a televised start as a college junior. Add to this the fact Meyer had previously turned down a cool two million from the Boston Red Sox as a 20th round pick in 2008, and seeing him present as essentially the same pitcher from three years earlier was quite telling in terms of projecting pitchability.
It’s no secret taller pitchers have a more difficult time repeating mechanics and Meyer is no exception. Listed anywhere from 6-foot-7 to 6-foot-9 depending on the player profile page, his wiry, loose frame is both a blessing and a curse. To his benefit, a downward plane created by the combination of height and release point (in progress) is the foundation for a ground ball/strikeout heavy pitcher. On the flip side, Meyer’s mechanics were inconsistent at best, as he had a tendency to both throw across his body and open early, causing many a fastball to be left up and out to right-handed hitters.
But what a fastball it was! Until he tired and lost velocity in the fourth inning. With a four-seamer in the 93-96 MPH range, touching 97, the pitch featured consistent movement. However, that movement varied between heavy downward action and tail in on the hands to right-handed hitters. While at the park, the name Matt Clement popped into my head as a player who had a similar M.O. to the pitcher Meyer may become. For years, I remember reading about Clement being a future ace if only he could harness his fastball movement. And while Clement had a solid four-year stretch from 2002-2005 in which he accumulated 14.2 WAR, greatness never happened. In Meyer’s case, his overall command presented as a 35/40 on the 20/80 scale with his fastball being a big part of that. And with Meyer being unable to make mechanical adjustments mid-at bat, as well as a spotty college track record, it’s difficult to identify a clear path for his command to project even as well as major league average at his peak.
Meyer mixed in an upper-80’s slider with tight, late break. At its best, his arm action was identical to that of his fastball and it profiled as at least an above-average pitch. However, Meyer’s inconsistent mechanics caused him to intermittently drop his elbow or collapse his back leg leading to at least a handful of “hangers” up in the zone. Repetition and experience may help to iron these issues out, but once again, Meyer’s size and previous track record leaves questions as to how seamless those adjustments will be.
The most surprising aspect of Meyer’s outing was a changeup which was significantly better than expected. At 87-88 MPH, it was a harder change, but his arm action and late drop leaves the projection of an average third pitch — a key for projecting a starting pitcher. Once again, his command was inconsistent causing him to leave the pitch up and out to right-handed hitters too often, but it’s a strong starting point to build from.
In the end, Meyer will be a polarizing prospect due to his being a college pick still in need of significant refinement. Should one buy into the stuff and trust the Nationals can help him harness it, then it’s easy to see a peak of at least a mid-rotation starter. However, find a cynic, and he or she would point to Meyer presenting similarly to the pitcher drafted in 2008 and pencil him as a future closer due to a lack of feel and the perception his control may not improve all that much going forward.
For me personally, I’m more apt to side with the cynics as Meyer presented as a better version of Chicago White Sox prospect Jacob Petricka, a name few casual prospect fans have heard of. And while it took only a few seconds to slot Petricka as a future bullpen arm at the game’s highest level (if that), Meyer has the changeup and athleticism to have at least a puncher’s chance at settling in as a starter long term.