When the Twins acquired Alex Meyer in exchange for Denard Span back in November of 2012, the move was widely hailed as a big win for Terry Ryan because young pitchers with legitimate ace potential are among the most valuable commodities in baseball -- all the more true for a Minnesota team that sorely lacked high-end arms in its system.
As a first-round draft pick with an upper-90s fastball and quality secondary stuff to boot, Meyer had that upside. He still does, which keeps him in our Top 5, but for various reasons he now seems less likely to reach his ceiling as a No. 1 starter than he did two years ago.
That's not to say he doesn't project as an excellent pitcher and a highly valuable asset.
Age: 25 (DOB: 1/3/90)
2014 Stats (AAA): 130.1 IP, 7-7, 3.52 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 153/64 K/BB
2014 Ranking: 3
What's To Like
Meyer has always excelled at throwing the ball past opposing hitters. During his junior year at the University of Kentucky, he led the Southeastern Conference with 110 strikeouts. The Washington Nationals took notice and selected him with the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 draft.
In his first pro season, Meyer struck out 139 hitters in 129 innings between Low-A and High-A. The following year -- his first in the Twins organization -- he tallied 84 strikeouts in 70 innings (10.8 K/9) at Double-A, but was limited to 13 starts by shoulder problems.
Last year, he led the International League with a 10.6 K/9 rate, piling up 153 whiffs in 130 innings. Meyer's stuff was as good as ever; he overwhelmed the opposition at the highest minor-league level with his power fastball and a nasty slider, along with a decent but inconsistent changeup.
The big strikeout rates have helped enable Meyer to keep hits in check at every level. He has given up only 300 knocks (22 homers) in 363 professional innings, and last year held Triple-A batters to a .241 average and .690 OPS.
What's Left To Work On
Starting pitchers who average more than 95 MPH on their fastball are few and far between, and it's not hard to see why: There aren't many arms durable enough to withstand that kind of exertion over 200 innings every season.
Unfortunately, Meyer's career up to this point has given little indication that he'll fall into that exclusive category.
The big righty has been unable to throw more than 130 innings in any of his three pro seasons. This owes to a few different factors.
First, he has struggled at times with his command. This is hardly unusual for a guy who stands nearly 6'9", and it's not something that he can't improve over time --Randy Johnson didn't figure out how to throw strikes until his 30s--but Meyer is coming off his worst season yet in that department, having averaged a walk every other inning at Rochester.
Beyond the bases on balls -- which lead to more batters and higher pitch counts -- there are the long at-bats and the innings that can drag on. This, in combination with the Twins' cautious approach, led to Meyer averaging fewer than five innings per start in 2014. He never completed seven innings in an outing, and in fact has done so only once in his professional career, back in 2012.
Despite the stringent restrictions on his usage -- Meyer threw 100 or more pitches only three times in 27 starts last year, and exceeded 90 pitches only seven times -- he still didn't hold up through the end of the season. Shoulder soreness had cost him a sizable chunk of his 2013 campaign, and while he was evidently healthy for most of 2014, that same shoulder began barking again in late August, forcing him out of his final start after one inning.
No structural damage was found in the shoulder, but still, you can't help but be concerned about the long-term outlook for Meyer's wing, especially in light of the questions that have always surrounded his pitching mechanics. As Jeff Mans recently wrote for the Sporting News:
"Meyer has issues repeating his delivery and while this makes his stuff nearly unhittable at times, it also means he cannot locate to save his life ... I strongly believe that the shoulder issues and mechanics are directly related and that once Meyer can solve his motion issues, the shoulder problems will fade away as well."
Perhaps this is an area where new pitching coach Neil Allen can help straighten Meyer out, in which case it behooves the Twins to get him up as quickly as possible, even if that means pitching out of the bullpen.
Meyer has some incredible things going for him -- namely an eye-popping arsenal that will make him exciting for fans to watch and dreadful for opposing hitters to face -- but he also has enough red flags that one can understand why the Twins have moved him along rather slowly, despite his relatively advanced age and gaudy strikeout numbers at all levels.
I maintain that he's among the most important individuals in the entire organization, because if he comes close to fulfilling his potential Meyer can make as large an impact as any player in the system, but he has much to prove in that regard.
The Twins will surely give him a long look in spring training, especially now that he's been added to the 40-man roster, but if he makes the big-league club it seems more likely he'd do so as a reliever. That might be his future role, based on what we've seen, but I'd definitely like to see him get a chance to start in the majors and I suspect we will at some point before 2015 is over.
Check out the rest of our Top Prospect Countdown: