FORT MYERS, FLA. – Sunday represented the Twins’ official reporting day for pitchers and catchers. Technically, that means those players must be in Fort Myers, but most pitchers and catchers have been in Fort Myers for days, if not weeks, and showed up at Hammond Stadium for an informal workout.
Alex Meyer was there, sitting in a locker adjacent to Jose Berrios. That placement is symbolic of Meyer’s situation, just as his situation is symbolic of all that spring training can mean for a struggling young players, for whom angst can obliterate joy.
Berrios has replaced Meyer as the Twins’ top pitching prospect. Berrios has flown through the farm system while displaying obvious fire on the mound, in the clubhouse and in the Olympic-level workout videos he posted from his native Puerto Rico this winter. Meanwhile, Meyer has given himself and his organization reason to worry.
He is 26 now, and no baseball player who is 26 is considered promising. You are either valuable or not.
Meyer is no longer necessarily considered a starting pitcher. If he wants to make the team out of spring training, it probably will be as a middle reliever. If he goes to Class AAA Rochester as a starter, he will be about seventh or eighth in line to start in the big leagues.
The Twins traded Denard Span to Washington for Meyer in 2012. It was a logical move, the Twins dealing from their deep array of young outfielders for what they thought was a potential ace, but Span is a good major league player and Meyer has given the Twins nothing.
He knows it. Asked to offer one word to describe his attitude this year, he said: “Positive. That’s the thing. Last year, I got too worked up and felt like I was letting too many people down at times. You never want to feel like that. If you’re worried about stuff like that …
“All I need to worry about is myself. Last year I was worried about letting the coaches down and wanting to help the team out so badly. I was underperforming. When you’re in Triple-A and you see guys getting sent down, you want to be the one going up. I want to be the best pitcher I can be and let everything else take care of itself.”
What’s strange about Meyer’s struggles is that there doesn’t seem to be much wrong with him. He is 6-9 and 225 pounds. He always appears to be in good shape. He throws hard. He cares.
Toward the end of last season, the Twins showed Meyer recordings that showed he was pitching almost sidearm. The motion added some life to his pitches but took away his biggest advantage — a dramatic downward plane on fastballs.
“I know I need to raise my arm slot, which we worked on this offseason,” he said. “That was brought to my attention at the end of last season.”
He might never become the ace the Twins hoped he would be, but this is spring training and the time to imagine what could be, and Meyer could be valuable to an ambitious team.
The Twins have two relievers who can close games, in Glen Perkins and Kevin Jepsen. If Meyer can harness his 97-mile-per-hour fastball, he could give them the ideal modern bullpen, one that turns sixth-inning leads into routine victories.
“I’m just trying to be as prepared as possible and make the team and go from there,” Meyer said. “From the get-go of spring training last year, I just struggled. I wasn’t very good in camp. I went down to Triple-A and struggled to start the season and got put in the bullpen. From there, it was a roller coaster.”
With a 4.79 ERA at Rochester and five runs in 2⅔ innings in the majors last year, 2015 was by far his worst season as a pro.
For Meyer and many others in Twins camp, this spring offers hope, because spring always offers hope to the healthy. It is past time for Meyer to apply the phrase “downward plane” to his pitches instead of his career.