Friday, February 21, 2014

14 Minnesota Twins to Watch in '14: Alex Meyer

The Twins don't have anyone who throws hard!  The Twins pitch to contact!  The Twins hate strikeouts!  We've all heard and lived these laments over the last couple decades.  The Twins have always had a fondness for pitchers who "put the ball in play" and "let their fielders to their jobs."  The anti-strikeout meme is so prevalent, a simple Google search reveals multiple articles from various reputable resources.

Some are analytical:

Each of those articles makes a reasonable argument based on the Twins history with soft-tossing, command-specialist starting pitchers.  Then, in the 2013 off-season, the Twins made a trade that may have started a new trend.  They acquired a young, hard-throwing starter and suddenly, that meme was just a little bit harder to promote. 

The 7th most important Twins player in 2014 is Alex Meyer.

Who is he? 

In November of 2012, the Twins acquired Meyer for former starting center fielder Denard Span.  Meyer is a former first-round pick and he has top-of-the-rotation stuff.  When the Twins made that trade, Meyer was coming off of his first professional season, posting a 2.86 ERA in 25 starts split between Low-A and High-A.  In 129 innings, he struck out 139 batters.  If the meme is to be believed, that 26.7% strikeout rate is an all-time Twins record!  The Twins went into the 2012 off-season looking to boost their farm system and find hard-throwing starters.  Meyer met both criteria. 

In his first season with the Twins' organization, Meyer looked good.  He made the jump to AA and actually improved his strikeout rate.  He posted a 28.1% strikeout rate in 70 AA innings. Unfortunately, he only managed those 70 innings, as he missed about two months with a shoulder injury.  He returned late in the 2013 season and looked good.  He then went to the Arizona Fall League and looked even better. 

Why is he important?

Meyer has a fastball that can hit 100 MPH, a nasty slider and a change that is getting better.  Meyer is a very tall man, so his biggest obstacle is his command.  He posted a walk rate of 9.7% with AA in 2013.  However, if he can keep his strikeout rate in the high-20s, he can overcome a few walks.  As he matures, his command could improve and he could develop into a number 1 or 2 starter.  The Twins haven't had a real number 1 or 2 starter since Johan Santana

Obviously, Meyer has great potential.  The height, command and injuries are all legitimate concerns.  Meyer can't change his height and his height actually enhances his stuff.  Because of his height, he'll have to work harder to repeat his delivery and keep his mechanics in line.  In addition, the shoulder injury that he dealt with last year was very scary at the time, but his late-season performance takes away some of that worry.  The Twins have to hope that Meyer moves to AAA in 2014 and has a healthy, effective season.  If he can be ready for the Twins rotation in 2015, his 2014 season will be a success.

If he can make his MLB debut in 2014, it would be fantastic for him and for the fans.     

Paul the Positive Puma's Take:

I am very excited for Meyer's MLB debut.  I don't hate the "pitch to contact" philosophy as much as other fans, but I do enjoy a good strikeout.  If Meyer's slider is as nasty as reported, I imagine we'll see a lot of strikeouts in his future.  The fact that he throws really hard is a nice bonus as well.  I was disappointed when the Twins traded Denard Span, but if the guy they received in return can head the future rotation, it was a worthwhile trade. 

I have high hopes for Meyer.  He's moved through the Minors very quickly and could make his MLB debut during his third season.  I really like that his strikeout rate increased from 2012 to 2013.  Getting strikeouts in A ball is one thing, but AA hitters are more advanced.  Meyer's walk rate isn't pretty, but it's not terrible either.  His rate was 9.7% and AL average was 7.9% in 2013.  There's a gap, but at the same time, Meyer's 28.1% strikeout rate would be much higher than the AL average of 19.9% in 2013.  Obviously, Meyer will see a dip in his strikeout rate as he moves up, but he should still be able to eclipse the AL average and overcome some of those walks. 

I hope he pitches well in AAA and earns his MLB debut during the 2014 season.  

Peter the Pessimistic Puma's Take:

I was against the Meyer trade when it happened and I would make the reverse move right now, if given the chance.  Why trade a known commodity for a lottery ticket?  I like young talent, but Span was a young man too.  The Twins created a gaping hole at a very important position, all to try to prove that they don't hate strikeouts.  Big deal.  One guy doesn't change anything.  Why not open up the pocketbook and sign a flamethrower?  Why not trade young guys for an established pitcher who absolutely will pay off? 

I don't dislike Meyer as a player, but I'm not convinced that he's going to lead the Twins to the playoffs anytime soon.  He walks a lot of batters and those issues can often take a long time to iron out.  Randy Johnson didn't find his control until he was 29 and he was amazing.  Is Meyer amazing?  A bunch of strikeouts doesn't do a lot of good if you're putting a lot of batters on base for free.  Meyer was able to strike out a lot of AA batters, but he still doesn't have an MLB strikeout.  Before we start penciling him into the rotation for the next 5-7 years, let's see what he can do against MLB hitters. 

This doesn't even address the fact that the Twins are so confident in Meyer's ability that they have about 9 pitchers ahead of him on the depth chart.  I don't expect to see him in Minnesota this season, so how can be the 7th most important player?

What to look for in '14:

Where will Meyer pitch in 2014?  You could make the case that he could start at AA, AAA or even the Majors.  I'd guess that he'll start in AAA as he pitched well with New Britain last season and he has moved levels pretty quickly.  I do wonder if he will make his MLB debut in 2014.  I could see the Twins adding Meyer in September, but I would guess that they don't want to use him before that.  The Twins are conservative with development and service time.  Plus, they have a lot of starters on roster, even if most of those starters are far less talented than Meyer.

Wherever he pitches, it will be interesting to monitor his strikeout and walk rates.  If his strikeout rate can remain stable and his walk rate goes in the right direction, then Meyer might be putting it all together.  I won't be surprised if his strikeout rate dips a bit as he moves from AA to AAA, but hopefully it won't dip too much.  2014 is about development for Meyer.  Even if he doesn't pitch an inning with the Twins, his season can be a huge success.  The Twins are going to be much better in 2015, and they need a healthy, effective Meyer for that season. 

I'll be back next week with the 6th most important Twins player in 2014.  Have a nice day, everyone!

If you haven't been paying close attention, I'm counting down the 14 most important Twins players for the 2014 season.  This was just one part in a 14-part series.  If you missed any of the previous installments, just click here as I have put them all in one nice, tidy location for you.  I'm the best.

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