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5th Starter Candidate: Alex Meyer

Yesterday, we looked at one candidate for the Minnesota Twins’ fifth starter job out of spring training, Mike Pelfrey. Today, we continue this series by looking at another candidate. He’s the tallest candidate, but he also has the biggest fastball and the most devastating slider. Can Alex Meyer stake claim to a spot in the Minnesota Twins starting rotation on Opening Day?
Image courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today
The Background

Alex Meyer was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 20th round of the 2008 MLB Draft. He was offered $2 million but chose to go pitch at the University of Kentucky. Three years later, he received that $2 million bonus anyway. He was drafted by the Nationals with their first round pick, the 23rd overall pick, seven picks before the Twins took Levi Michael.

The Nationals had him start in Low-A where he made 18 starts before moving up to High-A for seven more starts. Following the season, the Twins acquired the right-hander in a deal that sent Denard Span to the Nationals. In 2013, he made 13 starts for New Britain (in which he struck out 84 batters in 70 innings). Unfortunately, he felt some shoulder discomfort and pitched only in rehab the rest of the season. He went to the Arizona Fall League where he made seven starts to get more work.

It was clear that the Twins had one main goal for Alex Meyer in 2014: to keep him healthy through the season, and they were successful. He moved up to Rochester and made 27 starts. He went 7-7 with a 3.52 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. In 130.1 innings, he struck out 153 (10.6 per nine), but he also walked 64 (4.4 per nine). Following the season, Meyer was added to the Twins 40-man roster.

The Hope

The Twins last had a true #1, ace starting pitcher in 2008 when Johan Santana was still with the team. Yes, Francisco Liriano had an ace-like season in 2010, but he was unable to show any consistency from year to year, much less month to month. When the Twins acquired Meyer, he immediately gave Twins fans a hope for a future ace, whether that was fair or not.

Meyer is blessed with good pitches. He has a fastball that sits between 95 and 98 and has even hit triple-digits a few times. He is known to have a devastating slider. With his height, he is able to release his pitches just a little bit closer to the plate which makes it jump on hitters. He has an improving, though still inconsistent changeup. He credited Rochester teammate Yohan Pino for helping him with that pitch.

We love strikeouts. Missed bats are exciting. We don’t want quick outs. We want strikeouts. One thing that Alex Meyer can do is get strikeouts. In 2012, he struck out 9.7 per nine. In 2013, he struck out 11.0 per nine innings. In 2014, he averaged 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings in AAA.

The Concerns

Walks will haunt, right? After walking 3.1 per nine in 2012 and 3.4 per nine in 2013, Meyer walked 4.4 per nine inning at Rochester in 2014. Baseball people often say that for tall pitchers it is more difficult and takes longer to find a consistent release point for their pitches. There are many such examples.

In an interview on 1500ESPN at Twins Fest, Meyer was asked about that theory. He said that he is fully aware of it, but he finds it to just be an excuse for not throwing strikes. That’s a very responsible, accountable response to the theory. Regardless, for Meyer to be an effective starting pitcher in the big leagues, he is going to have to harness and control his terrific stuff. Moving up the baseball ladder means facing hitters who are generally more patient and don’t swing at as many pitches outside the zone. Big league hitters will make him throw strikes.

One concern is that Meyer, because of the number of walks and strikeouts, needs to throw a lot of pitches. He frequently was able to only go five innings or less because he was at 85 to 100 pitches by that point. In 11 of his starts, he failed to get an out in the sixth inning. The Twins have a rule that if a pitcher throws more than 30 pitches in an inning, he will not come out for the next inning. That is a pretty standard rule across baseball. He had a three-start stretch in mid-June where he couldn’t get to the fourth inning because of pitch count. He followed that with a stretch of five straight games in which he went exactly six innings, something he did just one more time over his final eight starts.

That leads to many people wondering if he wouldn’t best be served working out of the bullpen, something he would not be against. However, the goal at this time remains for him to be a starter, and hopefully a frontline starter.

More Hope and Unfair Comps

If he does not win the fifth starter job, it is possible that Meyer could begin his career as a bullpen arm. That is how the Twins eased Johan Santana onto the roster (obviously under different – Rule 5 – circumstances), and he turned out well. Meyer could replace Anthony Swarzak as a long reliever and work three to five innings when necessary. Of course, he could also go to the back-end of the bullpen and be a more dominant set-up man. He pitched an inning in relief for Team USA in the Futures Game at Target Field in 2014.

Many want to compare Meyer to 6-10 Randy Johnson who was just voted into the Hall of Fame last month. He debuted as a 24 year old in 1988 with the Expos. In 1989, he pitched 160.2 innings between Montreal and Seattle and walked 5.4 batters per nine innings while striking out just 7.3 per nine. He then led the league in walks from 1990 through 1992. He finally put it all together in his age-29 season of 1993. He cut his walks in half and became an annual Cy Young candidate, winning five awards and finishing second three more times. It’s fun to compare what Meyer could be to what Randy Johnson was. Is it fair? I don’t know. Comparing a prospect with zero big league innings to a Hall of Famer is fine, as long as fans realize that that result is pretty rare.

In other words, patience is a must for Meyer, the Twins and Twins fans. So many look at the fact that he turned 25 in January and think that he’s now too old to be a prospect. People really need to stop that. The guy has immense talent, but he does still have things to work on. If he is called up by midseason, he’s still up at 25 and can have a strong career for 12 to 15 years. The Twins need to not listen to any of that and do what is in the player’s best short- and long-term interest.

Meyer Percentage

So, if I were to guess the odds that Alex Meyer begins the season as the Twins fifth starter, I would probably put the odds at close to 10%. I think there is a slightly better chance that he starts the season in the Twins bullpen, just due to numbers. If he begins the year in Rochester, this would allow him to work as a starter, getting more innings, working in, and hopefully out of, more situations and continuing to work on his third and fourth pitches.

Either way, I have little doubt that he will be up in the big leagues before June, whether it is due to injury or ineffectiveness in the rotation or in the bullpen.
When Jeremy and I asked Meyer in November what his goals are for 2015, the pensive Meyer responded by saying, “Every year I’ve set goals, and this year I won’t. I want to let them come to me. I don’t want to set any expectations because you never know what can happen. I’m going to go out there, wherever they send me, whether it’s Minnesota, Rochester, or in Cedar Rapids. I just want to go out there and pitch as well as I can, continue to get better as a pitcher, and whenever the big leagues calls, you want to make sure you’re ready. I just want to go out there and throw as well as I can. I just hope I can help the team sometime during the year, whether it’s from Game 1 in April or whenever that time would be.”

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75 Comments

Meyer seems like a great, level-headed guy. I also still think he has the best chance of becoming an ace of any of our prospects, Berrios and Stewart included, but obviously I'm still not "expecting" him to become an ace. And if starting doesn't work, just imagine a bullpen in late 2016 that has Perkins, Meyer, Burdi, and Reed. I wouldn't want to be losing to the Twins after the sixth inning going against that bullpen, that's for sure.

    • glunn and HitInAPinch like this

I think he should be in the Twins bullpen to open the season, then sent to stretch out in Rochester for a bit, and be up starting for the Twins the entire second half of the season.

    • glunn likes this

Meyer is 25 and healthy. Time to start him in the show. Period. Anything else is just wasting an asset that you traded a fine center fielder for. Patience is highly overrated. Same with walk rate for a lights out pitcher.

    • Shane Wahl, DAM DC Twins Fans, jokin and 3 others like this

With his "stuff" is it possible that he could be a closer?

With his "stuff" is it possible that he could be a closer?

I would say definitely. But with Perkins' contract, and Burdi leading a slew of slinging arms that were drafted to relieve and could be ready even by the middle of this year, (and isn't every team hoping to strike gold and find the next Craig Kimbrel), why waste a guy with the pitches necessary to start. I can't see why you would mess with him at this point, and even temporarily have him pitch out of the bullpen. I mean, he was softhanded last year for a reason, and it wasn't to have him pitch out of the bullpen. Why even go that route now? If he is ready out of spring training, why waste anymore time? See if he can compete and start right out of the gate. He can always go to the pen. If he looks ready, like Gibson looked ready, and you want to field your best team......... what are you waiting for? For Meyer to turn 26?

    • Danchat, South Dakota Tom and IndyTwinsFan like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Feb 06 2015 06:32 AM
I'd rather see him in the MLB bullpen and traveling around with his future teammates than getting bored riding buses in the International league. He has a good attitude and probably deserves to be up just for that. I don't care if he can't throw strikes like Phil Hughes yet. Unless he goes totally off the rails I'd hope the Twins give him at least a couple months in the bullpen, even if no opportunity opens up in the rotation.

Meyer is 25 and healthy. Time to start him in the show. Period. Anything else is just wasting an asset that you traded a fine center fielder for. Patience is highly overrated. Same with walk rate for a lights out pitcher.

 

Agree, but the way they have structure the roster, I think it very unlikely he'll start at the majors.Of course, I'm still confused on why they have so many veteran pitchers or this roster without having spots for the rookies.Doesn't seem like a good rebuilding plan or they don't believe in the minor league pitchers.

    • h2oface likes this

I hope to see him in the big leagues, and soon. I also hope he gets a fair shake as far as beginning-of-the-year rosters go, and I think he probably will. I remember last year when everyone (including me) assumed that Gibson would be shunted into the minors just because of numbers concerns. We were trying to squeeze value out of Worley, had Diamond not far removed from a good season, and had a lot of Deduno believers. But Gibson won it fair and square. Maybe the same thing happens to Meyer this year. In any case, I don't really see him losing out to a guy like Pelfrey.

The only reason I don't necessarily want Meyer as the 5th starter at the start of the season is that I want to see Trevor May win that job. When the first starter is hurt or falters (looking hard at Nolasco), Meyer is my first call-up.

 

Pelfrey to the pen, and Milone is the second call-up, or to the pen if Duensing is traded.

    • Dantes929, Sconnie, DocBauer and 1 other like this

I like the idea of him starting in the bullpen and then moving into a starting role as the opportunity presents itself.

    • nytwinsfan likes this

I would make May the the starter and use Meyer in long relief to start.Give him 3-5 appearances to break in to games that are 14-1. Then look to use him on a regular schedule out of the pen. Maybe that means he gets to pitch from the 7th to 9th every four days.Then when someone falters or gets hurt, he slides into the rotation.

 

I like the comp to Randy Johnson, not because I think Meyer is going to be one of the best five pitchers of all time.But to highlight the risks of treating Meyer like all the other pitchers we have had.In his first 300 innings across three years, Randy had a BB per 9 of 5.4, then 7.8 (in just 29 IP), then 4.8.His ERA was 4.82 and 4.40. He finished his career with a BB per 9 of 3.3.But the Twins would definitely give up on Meyer as a 28 year old with 4.5 to 5 BB's per 9.He would be in AAA, then cut. 

 

He is a special talent.We need to give him extra leash and analyze his results a little differently.If he is striking out 9+ batters per 9 and giving up .7 or fewer HR's, under 8hits per 9....look at his LOB % and see what type of walk rate is acceptable.A for instance, Meyer was 2nd in the international league in total walks last year.But he was 7th in ERA.His LOB % was 75.It has never been lower than 72% and has been a high at 79%.He led the league in K's and only gave up 10 HR.

    • h2oface, nytwinsfan and Eephus like this

It was clear that the Twins had one main goal for Alex Meyer in 2014: to keep him healthy through the season, and they were successful. 

 

I'm not sure that is completely true. According to a Rhett Bollinger piece earlier this offseason, Meyer was supposed to get called up in September but was shut down with another shoulder issue: "All Alex Meyer had to do was get through one final start at Triple-A Rochester last season, and the Twins' No. 4 prospect (according to MLB.com) was finally going get to his chance to get called up to the Majors for the first time.

But it wasn't to be, as Meyer left his start early and was diagnosed with shoulder inflammation, which ended his season on Aug. 30. So while Meyer has tried not to harp on his missed opportunity to come up and pitch in relief down the stretch, the 6-foot-9 right-hander believes he's now primed to make an impact with the Twins in 2015."

http://m.twins.mlb.c...league-rotation

 

 

Also, Rob Antony mentioned in his interview with Twinkietown earlier this week that they still have questions about his durability: "So with three pitches, if he is able physically to handle the workload of a starter, which is probably the biggest question mark just because he hasn't done it yet, but if he is then I don't see any reason why he can't start."

http://www.twinkieto...-antony-part-ii

 

In my opinion, the biggest question mark with Meyer is his durability. That is the main reason why I think a future in the bullpen isn't out of the question. And that is why I think he will start at AAA. The Twins want their young pitchers to demonstrate some durability and consistency before getting called up (think Gibson and May). I would guess they send him to AAA with no pitch or inning restrictions, just to see if he can throw 100+ pitches multiple starts in a row (which he has only done once in his career) without any injuries or setbacks. 

I'm not sure that is completely true. According to a Rhett Bollinger piece earlier this offseason, Meyer was supposed to get called up in September but was shut down with another shoulder issue: "All Alex Meyer had to do was get through one final start at Triple-A Rochester last season, and the Twins' No. 4 prospect (according to MLB.com) was finally going get to his chance to get called up to the Majors for the first time.

But it wasn't to be, as Meyer left his start early and was diagnosed with shoulder inflammation, which ended his season on Aug. 30. So while Meyer has tried not to harp on his missed opportunity to come up and pitch in relief down the stretch, the 6-foot-9 right-hander believes he's now primed to make an impact with the Twins in 2015."

http://m.twins.mlb.c...league-rotation

 

 

Also, Rob Antony mentioned in his interview with Twinkietown earlier this week that they still have questions about his durability: "So with three pitches, if he is able physically to handle the workload of a starter, which is probably the biggest question mark just because he hasn't done it yet, but if he is then I don't see any reason why he can't start."

http://www.twinkieto...-antony-part-ii

 

In my opinion, the biggest question mark with Meyer is his durability. That is the main reason why I think a future in the bullpen isn't out of the question. And that is why I think he will start at AAA. The Twins want their young pitchers to demonstrate some durability and consistency before getting called up (think Gibson and May). I would guess they send him to AAA with no pitch or inning restrictions, just to see if he can throw 100+ pitches multiple starts in a row (which he has only done once in his career) without any injuries or setbacks. 

 

If questions about his durability move him to the pen, I think the Twins are mis-guided.So what if he only goes 5 IP a start and has a 3.25-3.50 ERA?Ideally he goes 6-7 innings per start, but give me 170 innings at a 3.25-3.50 ERA over 60 at 2.50 ERA.Every day of the week. 

 

Craig Kimbrel has been about as dominant as it gets in the pen.He has a WAR of 7.7 over the last three years.4.4 over the last two.So it took him about three years to achieve the WAR that Kluber an Kershaw achieved alone in 2014.Nine starters last year had a higher WAR than Kimbrels 2013 and 2014 combined.

 

I wish we moved past these old school cut and dry rules, the pitcher has to go x innings and walk this many per 9, etc.At the end of the day, use your pitchers in a way that allows fewer runs to the opposing team.Let's not overthink it. It is really not that complicated.

 

I think the biggest risk to Meyer is the Twins.

    • h2oface and Hosken Bombo Disco like this
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nicksaviking
Feb 06 2015 10:11 AM

 

Also, Rob Antony mentioned in his interview with Twinkietown earlier this week that they still have questions about his durability:

 

This is where I have issues with keeping him down.You're not going to make him more durable by throwing extra pitches in Rochester.If he may not be durable, get as much as you can out of him before his clock strikes midnight.

    • h2oface, Hosken Bombo Disco and Bill Tanner like this

This is where I have issues with keeping him down.You're not going to make him more durable by throwing extra pitches in Rochester.If he may not be durable, get as much as you can out of him before his clock strikes midnight.

 

Totally agree. He is 25.Velocty dips at 29-30.We have 5-6 years of control.Don't waste him in AAA.

    • h2oface, Danchat and South Dakota Tom like this

I would like to see Meyer work those control issues out as the Twins 5th starter. In the beginning I'm sure he will struggle to keep his pitch count down. If he gets us through 5 innings or so and walks a few along the way, I still think he can keep the runs allowed number low. Getting 5-6 innings from a 5th starter while limiting runs against would put him miles ahead of Nolasco. Also, I would start Nolasco in AAA and make May the 3rd starter and put Gibson 4th so that the first time through the rotation May gets the 3rd game of the first series and Gibson gets the first game of the second series. 

 

I'm not a believer in the Nolaco/Milone resurrection and I don't feel like waiting for the perfect storm to get May and Meyer in there.

    • h2oface, twinssouth and Eephus like this

If questions about his durability move him to the pen, I think the Twins are mis-guided.So what if he only goes 5 IP a start and has a 3.25-3.50 ERA?Ideally he goes 6-7 innings per start, but give me 170 innings at a 3.25-3.50 ERA over 60 at 2.50 ERA.Every day of the week. 

Durability isn't just innings per start; it is also making starts and staying off the DL. I agree with you that it is completely fine if he could make 34 starts every year but only pitch 5 innings. However, the problem is that he has missed roughly 25% of the past two seasons because of shoulder issues. So even with his very restricted usage, he is injuring his shoulder as a starter. Luckily, so far these injuries haven't been season or career threatening. But at the same time, I don't think it is a good idea to have him constantly do something that is putting him on the DL.

 

There are all kinds of reasons why this may just be a temporary thing. He could tweak his mechanics or change his training routine. Or maybe just getting older will help. I don't know, and it is possible that nobody really knows for sure. But if he injures his shoulder again, I do think it is prudent to try him in the bullpen rather than continuing to put him in a position where he injures himself. He might continue to get hurt regardless, but he might stay healthier (Perkins is a good example). He probably won't be as valuable as a reliever on a rate basis, but he is definitely more valuable as a very good (maybe great) reliever over six seasons than as an oft-injured starter who blows out his shoulder after two.

Durability isn't just innings per start; it is also making starts and staying off the DL. I agree with you that it is completely fine if he could make 34 starts every year but only pitch 5 innings. However, the problem is that he has missed roughly 25% of the past two seasons because of shoulder issues. So even with his very restricted usage, he is injuring his shoulder as a starter. Luckily, so far these injuries haven't been season or career threatening. But at the same time, I don't think it is a good idea to have him constantly do something that is putting him on the DL.

 

There are all kinds of reasons why this may just be a temporary thing. He could tweak his mechanics or change his training routine. Or maybe just getting older will help. I don't know, and it is possible that nobody really knows for sure. But if he injures his shoulder again, I do think it is prudent to try him in the bullpen rather than continuing to put him in a position where he injures himself. He might continue to get hurt regardless, but he might stay healthier (Perkins is a good example). He probably won't be as valuable as a reliever on a rate basis, but he is definitely more valuable as a very good (maybe great) reliever over six seasons than as an oft-injured starter who blows out his shoulder after two.

 

I agree that if he fails as a starter, he would probably be a really good reliever. But let's see if he fails as a starter first.Perkins went from a below average starter to a really good closer.I want to ensure we have pursued every avenue first.I don't think he should be moved to the pen after one more shoulder injury, I am not sure if that is what you are implying.

Kiley McDaniel has him as our #6 prospect and says he sees him as a '#3/4 starter or closer.

 

'Most scouts think he ends up as a shutdown closer, but the Twins are trying to make him a starter and there’s still a chance Meyer gets there. If he can tone everything down to where it’s repeatable, the upside is probably a #3 starter but this seems destined for the bullpen at some point.'

 

http://www.fangraphs...innesota-twins/

Kiley McDaniel has him as our #6 prospect and says he sees him as a '#3/4 starter or closer.

 

'Most scouts think he ends up as a shutdown closer, but the Twins are trying to make him a starter and there’s still a chance Meyer gets there. If he can tone everything down to where it’s repeatable, the upside is probably a #3 starter but this seems destined for the bullpen at some point.'

 

http://www.fangraphs...innesota-twins/

 

I get why some see him in the pen, since he hasn't been durable, repeatabe delivery causing injuries, etc.

 

But the upside of a#3 starter does not make sense to me. I don't know anyone who argues that his fastball and slider are not plus.Just started developing a change.If that sniffs average....I see a much higher ceiling.

 

I think he has the most upside in our system, which is a loaded one.

    • nicksaviking, nytwinsfan, HitInAPinch and 1 other like this

I get why some see him in the pen, since he hasn't been durable, repeatabe delivery causing injuries, etc.

 

But the upside of a#3 starter does not make sense to me. I don't know anyone who argues that his fastball and slider are not plus.Just started developing a change.If that sniffs average....I see a much higher ceiling.

 

I think he has the most upside in our system, which is a loaded one.

unfortunately, it seems a good chunk of scouts think otherwise.  I hope you are right. In Nov 2014, Baseball America also had him behind Stewart and Berrios.  That's where I'd put him too.

unfortunately, it seems a good chunk of scouts think otherwise.  I hope you are right. In Nov 2014, Baseball America also had him behind Stewart and Berrios.  That's where I'd put him too.

 

How many #3 starters have two plus pitches?A 96+ fastball and a 89 mph wipeout slider?I think Baker in his prime. That is a #3 starter.He did not have those pitches.

    • Danchat and nytwinsfan like this

How many #3 starters have two plus pitches?A 96+ fastball and a 89 mph wipeout slider?I think Baker in his prime. That is a #3 starter.He did not have those pitches.

Maybe it's the ability to control these pitches consistently they see as a problem. I don't know. I sometimes thing we 'want' our guys to be better than many scouts think they will be.  Not that the scouts are infallible by any means ut I think sometimes fans quickly dismiss scouts thoughts if they knock a guy we are hoping will be very good.

Maybe it's the ability to control these pitches consistently they see as a problem. I don't know. I sometimes thing we 'want' our guys to be better than many scouts think they will be.  Not that the scouts are infallible by any means ut I think sometimes fans quickly dismiss scouts thoughts if they knock a guy we are hoping will be very good.

Agreed, and control might be a good reason for putting him below Berrios and/or Stewart, but control can be developed later in a career, especially for a taller pitcher, and so I don't think that undermines his upside, which I agree is higher than Berrios and Stewart. I don't think most scouts would disagree Meyer has the most upside. They just think he doesn't have the most expected value, which is probably true.

Maybe it's the ability to control these pitches consistently they see as a problem. I don't know. I sometimes thing we 'want' our guys to be better than many scouts think they will be.  Not that the scouts are infallible by any means ut I think sometimes fans quickly dismiss scouts thoughts if they knock a guy we are hoping will be very good.

 

Saying, he has control issues and those two pitches with control issues makes him a #3 starter. I get that.

 

I guess I am seeing this differently though.I would view a ceiling under the assumption that his control improves and frankly, the .7 BB per 9 jump from 2013 to 2014 over 130 innings has caused a lot of concern.The BB's were not an issue in the mid 3's.  

.

    • jimmer likes this

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