GLENDALE, Ariz. – Is it Opening Day yet? That’s what Trevor May keeps asking himself.
Yeah, these next 20 weeks are going to be the longest of May’s life. The Twins righthander, acquired in the Ben Revere trade nearly a year ago, is biding his time in the Arizona Fall League, throwing strikes and counting days, trying to be patient as he awaits his next opportunity to take the mound in a game that counts.
A Twins game.
“I really believe it’s only a matter of time now,” May said.
Minnesota sent four pitchers to the AFL last month, including Alex Meyer, their top mound prospect. And while Meyer has impressed a sea of scouts with his command, it’s May who has emerged most convinced he’s ready to pitch at this level — and the one above it.
“I’ve put myself in position to be successful at a higher level,” the 24-year-old Washington native said. “I think I’m there. I’m learning how to pitch hitters, how to throw my slider, how to get ahead of hitters, how to repeat my delivery. I feel like all that stuff is at, or close to, where it needs to be in order to be successful. The only box left to check is just executing and making the results happen.”
Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it? May understands the Twins were underwhelmed, even mildly disappointed, that his 2013 season at Class AA New Britain, including a 4.51 ERA and 1.424 runners reaching base per inning, appeared basically the same as his 2012 season at the same level. But May sees improvement — indeed, giant steps forward — that a stat line doesn’t capture. With his work in the AFL, limited by the Twins to only a couple of innings per week because of his summer workload and some minor tendinitis, he’s convinced.
“Things are falling into place,” May said. “I really feel that with the weapons I have — I’m throwing four pitches now, and my command is improving — I can be a very good starter. I’m going into spring training with the mind-set that I’m on top of the world and I’m about to have my best season. I’m going to compete for a spot [in Minnesota]. I really believe the results will be there.”
Scouts aren’t quite that certain, but they share May’s enthusiasm for his growing repertoire, especially his changeup, a pitch that May says is becoming his best.
“It’s a swing-and-miss pitch. I feel I can use it as a strikeout pitch,” said May, particularly because his fastball has remained in the 92-94 miles per hour range in Arizona.
The right stuff
Of course, that’s 3-5 mph slower than Meyer’s fastball, a pitch that had scouts buzzing after the former first-round pick touched 98 in the Fall-Stars Game last week. Meyer remains among the 10 best starting pitching prospects in the minors, according to Baseball America, and he’s showing it here.
In addition to his three shutout innings in the Fall-Stars game, Meyer allowed only one hit and one walk over 5⅔ innings last Friday, striking out seven. Meyer leads the AFL in strikeouts with 25, and he has a reasonable shot at being named the league’s outstanding pitcher.
“He’s looked lights-out from the first day,” said Glendale manager Jeff Smith, who also managed Meyer and May at New Britain last summer. “There’s a lot to be excited about.”
Yet Meyer, who missed two months of the 2013 season because of shoulder soreness that he said has completely disappeared, is keeping his excitement in check. The AFL, with its lineups full of top prospects, has shown him where he must improve.
“I still need to refine my fastball command,” the 23-year-old Indiana native said. “I feel pretty confident in my curveball, and my changeup’s getting better, but I have to know I can throw strikes with the fastball. I know what I need to do to keep getting better. Hopefully I can get a little stronger in the weight room this winter, and keep this going a little bit.”
A path to follow
May and Meyer have gained something else this fall, too: a role model. Each mentioned the success of Michael Wacha, who had pitched only 19 games above Class A before becoming the Cardinals’ most reliable starter in the postseason, as inspiration for their own major-league ambitions.
“He’s a different animal,” Meyer said of the 22-year-old St. Louis rookie. “He’s about as special as anybody pitching right now. It’s funny, he’s younger than me. But he’s been dominant in the major leagues in just a short time. I can’t say I know I’m ready for that; the only [big-league] hitters I’ve faced have been in spring training.
“That’s why this [AFL] experience is so good — these are without a doubt the best lineups I’ve ever faced. It’s forcing me to learn how to pitch more and not necessarily just throw as much, which is good.”
While pitching against better competition has helped build confidence in the Twins’ top starting prospects, they’ve been quite a bit harder on the pair of relievers Minnesota assigned to the Desert Dogs. Zack Jones in particular has been overwhelmed by the jump in talent — understandable since he’s only 22 and has no experience above Class A.
But while the San Jose, Calif., native has walked nine and allowed 12 earned runs in only six AFL innings, Smith said he’s made an impression “by not giving in. He’s still competing, even though this is the first time he has faced Class AAA competition, and he’s learning,” the manager said. Jones has averaged 95 mph with his fastball, but “he’s learned that you have to command it, too. He’s making progress.”
The progress is more obvious with A.J. Achter, who despite posting a 2.54 ERA at New Britain and Class AAA Rochester last summer, still can’t quite believe he’s here.
“There aren’t a lot of 46th-rounders who get a chance to come out here and showcase their stuff, so it’s pretty exciting,” the Michigan State alum said. “I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder, so I’ve never had a problem getting up for proving myself. Coming out here, not being a heralded prospect, it’s easy to get up to pitch against the best guys in the minors.”
He has walked only three batters, demonstrating the strike-throwing ability the Twins believe could get him to Minnesota as soon as next season.
“He’s a guy a manager can trust,” Smith said. “He’s consistent from one outing to the next, which is so valuable in the bullpen. I know he’s under the radar a little bit, but I’m excited to see what he does next year.”
There’s a lot of that going around in Arizona these days.
“I know  was a tough season, pitching-wise” for the Twins, Smith said. “But I’m seeing some real good signs that it’s going to change.”