Alex John Meyer
Born: January 3, 1990 in Greensburg, Indiana
Weight: 220 LBS
Drafted: First Round (23rd Overall) in 2011
MLB Comparison: Jason Schmidt, A.J. Burnett,
Selected out of the University of Kentucky with the 23rd overall pick in last June’s MLB Draft, Alex Meyer is blessed with all the tools for stardom. Standing 6’9″ and weighing in at a fit 220 pounds, Meyer has a big body and the arm to match. Among his draft class’s counterparts, he ranks behind only Gerrit Cole in terms of raw stuff and physical projectability.
The second of the team’s three first round picks, Meyer enthralled the Nationals with his potential so much that they considered taking him in the number-six slot. His name was called later in the first round, but his future is just as a bright as a top ten pick. The Nats ended up handing the hard-throwing righthander a hefty $2 million dollar signing bonus just before last August’s deadline. He signed too late to make his pro debut in 2011, and instead began his career this Spring, pitching for the Hagerstown Suns of the Class-A South Atlantic League.
In high school, Meyer was one of the top pitchers in the country. Pitching for Greensburg high, Meyer took home honors as an Aflac All-American as well as the 2008 Louisville Slugger and Gatorade Indiana Player of the Year. He went 8-0 and struck out 108 in 51 innings while posting a 0.95 ERA during his senior season. He graduated from Greenville holding program records in both single-season and career ERA and strikeouts. Rated as the 2008 Draft class’s fifth best prospect, Meyer was selected by the Red Sox in the 20th round but ultimately turned down a $2 million bonus to attend the University of Kentucky. The fact that he turned down a multi-million dollar contract to attend college testifies to a his confidence.
Meyer’s first two seasons with Kentucky showed promise but his performance was suppressed by inconsistency. As a freshman, Meyer pitched behind James Paxton. As Kentucky’s Sunday starter, he posted a 5.73 ERA through 59 2/3 innings and ranking 6th in the NCAA with a 12.06 K/9. He battled mononucleosis in 2009 and became more hittable as he lost power and command. His ERA rose to 7.06 and he allowed 95 baserunners in just 51 innings. Still though, his real performance was much better than many of his aggregate stats indicate . Remove two particularly ugly appearances against Arkansas and Greenville, when he allowed 12 earned runs (total) in 2 2/3 innings, and his ERA drops to 5.17– just below the SEC’s 5.28 earned run average that season.
Meyer spent the 2009-2010 offseason getting healthy and re-building his strength and balance. The extra work paid off in a big way, and he enjoyed a spectacular junior season in 2011. Through 14 games started, he tossed 101 innings and lead the SEC with 110 strikeouts (9th in the NCAA) and four complete games. Of the 78 hits he allowed, only 13 went for extra bases. He was the first UK starter to post a sub-3.00 ERA since Greg Dombrowski in 2006, and finished his college career ranked fifth in program history in strikeouts (253). He was also named a Second-Team All-SEC Starting Pitcher by coaches.
Sent to the South Atlantic League to begin his Nationals career, Meyer made his pro debut on April 7th. Pitching for the Hagerstown Suns, Meyer shut down the West Virginia Power through five innings, earning the win after allowing just two hits and no earned runs while striking out four batters. The Lakewood Blue Claws knocked him around in his next start, tagging him for 5 earned runs in just 2/3 innings. He’s recovered nicely since, though. Meyer took the mound against a talented Delmarva Shorebirds ballclub on Tuesday April 17th. He struck out seven batters through five innings pitched but was out-dueled by Orioles’ prospect Dylan Bundy, a fellow first-round draft pick (selected fourth overall). Meyer’s fastball sat firmly in the 92-94 range and touched 96 mph. His curveball and changeup showed plus potential, though his inconsistent command and mechanics limited the effectiveness of his secondary pitches.
BaseballNewsHound.com’s Ryan Kelley took the following footage of Alex Meyer during his April 17th start for the Hagerstown Suns. Meyer pitched five innings against the Delmarva Shorebirds, allowing four hits, one walk and three earned runs while striking out seven batters. He allowed just one extra-base hit, a double to Tom Winegardner, but was ultimately credited with his second loss of the season.
Simply put, Meyer looks the part. He’s an old scout’s dream, gifted with off-the-charts physical tools. At 6’9″, he towers over his teammates. He’s wide-shouldered with long arms, 10 1/2″ hands and a high waist. He’s lean and lanky, but not skinny, and his legs are well-built, providing him with a sturdy base. With tons of un-tapped potential, he gives the Nats’ a canvas to dream on. At present, he generates much of his velocity with his upper-body and tends to get out in front of his lower half. Once the Nats’ coaching staff and player development team loosens up his a stiff, top-heavy delivery, and helps him employ his legs more, Meyer’s command should come around and his velocity could sit in the 94-97 MPH range consistently.
Meyer’s fastball is one of the best in the low-minors. His mechanics and long levers, lead to inconsistent velocity readings, but when he’s feeling good, his fastball reaches 96-97 MPH and will even flirt with triple-digits. What separate’s Meyer’s heater from those of other young flamethrowers is the pitch’s movement. His fastball is bowling-ball heavy. He uses his two-seamer’s ferocious riding action to bust the knuckles of right-handed batters. His arm-slot and long fingers create natural run and two-seam movement. His four-seamer explodes out of his hand with hissing rise. He’ll cut the pitch across the plate and pound left-handed batters on the inner-half to generate weakly hit groundballs. He already enjoys easy velocity, and once he optimizes his stride and does a better job of employing his lower-half, his heater should rate a consistent plus-plus offering.
His fastball is his bread-and-butter, but his breaking ball is his put-away pitch. He employs a knuckle-curve grip to get more exaggerated downward break from his three-quarters arm slot– which is generally more conducive to horizontal movement. He whips his breaking ball with razor-sharp spin out of a similar tunnel as his fastball, making it extremely difficult for opposing batters to read and react to. The pitch drops off the table with hard, late break, buckling the knees of right-handed hitters. He’ll vary the depth of the pitch and will drop his arm-slot to low-3/4 to take a little off and sweep the ball across the plate. He’s still harnessing feel for his secondary pitches, but he’s exhibited the ability to drop his slider in for called strikes when he’s loose. With more experience, Meyer’s slider could be a legitimate wipeout pitch in the MLB.
No doubt, Meyer has some rough edges that need polishing-up before he can reach the Major Leagues, but also he’s more advanced than he’s often given credit for. First of all, he’s more than a two-pitch pitcher. He used his junior season to develop a changeup and is now comfortable mixing it in to his game repertoire regularly. He maintains good arm speed and action and his long fingers and off-set grip subtract about 4-7 MPH of velocity while adding some two-seam movement and fade. He’s also toyed with a cutter that showed some promise, as well as a more traditional breaking pitch.
Meyer is adept at controlling the running game. Like any young pitcher, he can get a bit rattled and out of rhythm with men on base, but he does a fine job of slowing down his tempo and varying his set times. His move to first base is already a plus and he led the Wildcats with four pick-offs last season. Out of the stretch, he employs an abbreviated leg kick and gets rid of the ball with decent speed. He watches the runner with some savvy and can really slow down the game– often to a snail’s pace–but is effective at keeping base-stealers from getting good jumps on him.
Though he needs to learn to work on repeating his delivery and maintaining his arm-slot, Meyer’s mechanics are fairly clean. His arm-action is free of red flags. He did away with a slight wrapping action, and does a nice job of generating torque with his core in rotation. Though his arm slot sits around three-quarters, he tilts his shoulders forward and keeps his pitches running through a downhill tunnel. His size and delivery add deception, making it very difficult for hitters to get comfortable enough to drive the ball.
Meyer’s makeup appears to be a plus. He’s receptive to coaching, he tries to stay on the field and clearly puts the extra work in. He’s in good shape and he’s a decent enough athlete, showing good balance and body control. He also has nice flexibility for a his size, affording him cleaner and more efficient mechanics. He’s fairly cool and collected, and doesn’t have too much trouble zeroing in on the strikezone. Mentally, it’s difficult to assess young ballplayers, but he’s bright, taking the mound with a quiet, professional demeanor. For what it’s worth, he was consistently on the honor roll during his tenure at U.K.
Meyer needs to work on improving his delivery. He often rotates his waist either too early or too late, and is susceptible to leaving his lower-half behind. His front foot is inconsistent and he often pitches across his body; when he tires or loses his rhythm, he’ll lose his path to the plate all together. He needs work on utilizing his powerful core and long legs to a great extent– leading with his belt buckle and finishing his follow-through. He takes a healthy stride and gets on top of the hitters, but could stand to build more power from his trunk and drive through the ball. He does do a solid job of keeping his pitches down and working around the strikezone, however.
His command and control are well-ahead of other young tall pitchers– like Andrew Brackman and Dellin Betances at the same age. That’s not to say his command is anywhere near the big leagues however. Meyer is inconsistent and will dominate one start only to get shelled out of the park in his next appearance. A lot of his issues have to do with his ability to take charge. His wavering command tends to keep him pitching behind in the count. He shows the ability to work his fastball to both sides of his plate, but can’t rely on his secondary pitches when he needs a called strike. When he tires, his landing point flies toward the first base line and he loses his release. As a result, pro hitters aren’t having a great deal of trouble sitting fastball and timing his velocity by the second time through the batting order. His slow tempo with men on base can work against him too, often causing him to completely unravel when he loses the strikezone.
Meyer’s inexperience pitching professionally led to our decision to examine his college pitching career. Though college stats shouldn’t be taken too seriously, they’re useful when analyzing trends and in comparative analysis. Below is a graph of Meyer’s career FIP. Meyer consistently improved while at Kentucky. Though his career ERA sat at 4.72 by graduation, his real performance was significantly better.
Meyer became a much more efficient pitcher during his last two seasons starting for the Wildcats. The second chart (below) illustrates his drop in pitches thrown per nine innings pitched. However, it’s worth noting that the NCAA’s changes to their bat rules caused offensive output to plummet across board in the SEC and NCAA. Between 2010 and 2011, the mean ERA in the NCAA and Southeastern Conference dropped more than a run. At the same time, hard-throwers like Meyer are overly victimized by metal bats, implying the rule change would shed more light on his real performance rather than give undue credit.
Meyer is a big-bodied power arm, blessed with all of the tools to succeed at a high level in the MLB. He needs a few seasons to develop, but he’s much closer to the Majors than most tall, big-armed pitchers are at the same age. Experience, coaching and full-time dedication will take care of many of his weaknesses. His control is much further along than many draft reports implied in June, and he really just needs to focus on refining his delivery and throwing quality strikes. His numbers might not be too sexy early in his professional career, but if the Nationals are patient with him, he should ultimately develop in to a first-rate big-leaguer.
Meyer has the opportunity to help solidify the middle-rotation of a contending Nationals club as a young AJ Burnett-type starter. He’ll spend the majority of 2012 in the South Atlantic League and could finish the season with High Class-A Potomac if he performs well over the summer. As long as all goes according to plan, Meyer should compete for a rotation spot by Spring 2014.