Gophers junior Max Meyer hasn’t pitched in a game since the COVID-19 pandemic halted the season March 12, but his MLB draft stock continues to soar.
Draft analysts now have the Woodbury High School graduate projected as high as No. 4 overall, which would make him the state’s highest draft choice since the Twins made Joe Mauer the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft.
Meyer’s fastball reached 100 miles per hour this season and consistently registered 96 mph, putting him in a select group of pitching prospects. But that’s just part of the story heading into the June 10 draft, according to MLB.com’s Jim Callis.
“As good as Meyer’s fastball is, his slider is better and is perhaps the best pitch in the entire draft, earning David Cone comparisons from evaluators,” Callis said. Cone was a five-time All-Star and 1994 AL Cy Young Award winner during a 17-year career.
Meyer pitched out of the bullpen for the Gophers as a freshman and part of his sophomore season before coach John Anderson moved him into the rotation.
Batters hit only .187 against Meyer in his three college seasons, and a paltry .155 this year.
“We couldn’t afford to have him in the bullpen and possibly not get to him on a weekend,” Anderson said. “We had to get him in the starting rotation.”
This season, Meyer went 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA, striking out an average of 1.7 batters every inning.
Callis had the righthander ranked as the No. 24 draft prospect heading into the season and recently moved him up to No. 6. The biggest question for Meyer now is whether he’ll stick as a starter or move back to reliever, according to Callis. But Callis said either way, Meyer’s makeup and competitiveness endear him to scouts.
“I’m confident in myself,” Meyer said. “I want to dominate every hitter. I have a bulldog mentality.”
Another reason for Meyer’s rise has been his meticulously managed workload over the past three years with the Gophers. He has made 46 appearances but thrown only 148 innings. Meyer also has never had any arm trouble or injuries.
“He has a fresh arm,” Anderson said. “We have looked out for his career and been very careful how much he has thrown.”
Meyer also has been a standout on the national stage, pitching for the Team USA collegiate squad the past two summers. In 2019, he fanned 12 batters in 14 innings while posting a 0.64 ERA. The previous year, he registered seven saves in eight appearances and struck out 15 in eight innings while recording a 3.38 ERA.
“I think playing for Team USA really helped his development,” Anderson said. “He got to see what the other top players were doing, and what he needed to work on to get better.”
As part of the predraft process, Meyer has been talking and interviewing with teams through Zoom the past couple of weeks and has more lined up in the future.
“It’s been fun talking with teams and getting to know them,” he said.
Before returning home recently, Meyer has been working out in Raleigh, N.C., with Team USA catcher Patrick Bailey from North Carolina State.
The 6-foot, 195-pound Meyer continues to work on his arsenal. Besides his fastball and slider, he has also developed a changeup.
“He has three elite pitches. All are swing-and-miss pitches,” Gophers pitching coach Ty McDevitt said. “I actually think his stuff will play out even better professionally than it does at the college level.”
Besides Mauer, only two other Minnesota natives — Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield — have been selected in the top 10 of the draft.
The last time the Gophers had a pitcher taken in first round of the MLB draft was lefthander Glen Perkins, a future All-Star closer whom the Twins selected at No. 22 in 2004.
Always searching for a potential local star, the Twins took a flier on Meyer coming out of high school and made him their 34th-round pick in the 2017 draft. Instead, he chose the Gophers, where he also played in the infield and outfield and served as the designated hitter.
“He was a better hitter than pitcher coming out of high school,” Anderson said. “There is no way I could have predicted this. He has a special gift.”