Behind the Marlins' decision to option No. 3 prospect Meyer

April 18th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Christina De Nicola’s Marlins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MIAMI -- For the second straight season, the Marlins sent down a top pitching prospect who was holding his own at the big league level.

In the case of No. 3 prospect , who had been Miami’s most consistent starter three turns through the rotation, he was never going to spend the entire 2024 season in the Majors. After missing 19 months due to Tommy John surgery in August 2022, his workload was always going to be monitored. The most innings he has thrown in his professional career was 111 -- three years ago. Miami had planned on easing Meyer back in, optioning him to Triple-A Jacksonville on March 12.

But the 25-year-old Meyer made the Opening Day rotation out of necessity with right-handers Edward Cabrera and Eury Pérez as well as left-hander Braxton Garrett sidelined with injuries. When Meyer was given the news he made the roster, Miami was proactive in telling him what lies ahead.

"Tough sending Max out, obviously, one of our better pitchers if not the best pitcher so far in the early part of the season," manager Skip Schumaker said. "We kind of let him know that there was a chance this was going to happen just to protect him and what our organization thinks of him and how highly they think of him, because of his workload and innings that he's had the last couple years. Combined, there's not too many innings on that arm. So [president of baseball operations] Peter [Bendix] laid out kind of a game plan on what that looks like moving forward and talking with Max, and I think we're all on the same page."

According to Schumaker, Meyer will not be shut down. Rather, he will pitch once a week in three-inning stints for the Jumbo Shrimp so he can be available in the second half. The entire pitching staff’s workload will be something to monitor as the season progresses.

Things could get dicey with right-handers Sandy Alcantara and Pérez out with Tommy John surgery, and Garrett, who experienced “dead arm” in his bullpen session on Monday, awaiting more information on his health. In 2023, southpaw Trevor Rogers threw just 18 innings due to injuries, lefty A.J. Puk tossed only 56 2/3 frames as a reliever and Cabrera and lefty Ryan Weathers set career highs with 99 2/3 and 137 1/3 innings, respectively. That’s not to mention any possible Trade Deadline moves.

“There's not an exact date or timeline,” Schumaker said of Meyer’s return. “I think you kind of monitor it. There's still stuff to work on. He's still developing. I know he's been dominant here and really good here, so it's always tough to send a kid like him down, but he's not a finished product. He knows that, and there's still some stuff that he's going to work on down there, just like everybody. There's people up here working on stuff. You never stop developing. So yes, it's not an easy conversation, there's no doubt about it, but he understood what's going on and how highly we think of him as well. It's worth protecting him and protecting us in the future.”

Although Meyer dominated the Majors’ best lineup in Saturday’s 5-1 victory over the Braves at loanDepot park, he turned to his slider 54 percent of the time in his 91-pitch outing -- just shy of Royals righty Brady Singer’s MLB-leading rate on March 31 (54.1 percent, minimum of 50 total pitches).

That type of usage likely isn’t sustainable for a starter, who must navigate a lineup multiple times an outing. A day when a particular offering isn’t working would leave the pitcher susceptible against MLB batters.

Meyer threw a sinker just once in his initial MLB stint before the surgery and only five times this season. The changeup, which he tossed 13 times in 2022, had already been thrown 38 times in ‘24. Opposing batters were 1-for-6 against it, but the lone hit was Mike Trout’s homer on April 1. Meyer's only strikeout was of Jarred Kelenic on Saturday. According to Baseball Savant, Meyer has a 3 run value on his slider, a 2 run value on his four-seamer and a -1 run value on his changeup.

“He knows that developing the two-seam to combat the slider is going to be really big for him,” Schumaker said. “The changeup has been a developing process, and he showed what he had against the Braves. The last outing, [it] was a real pitch for him. If he has that in his back pocket at all times, he's going to be one of the elite starters in the big leagues. The future is obviously really bright for him and for us when he's on that mound. He was not going to make 30-plus starts this year, that just was not going to happen, and so this is a way to monitor it.”