Meyer 'ready to roll,' spotless in spring debut

March 21st, 2022

JUPITER, Fla. -- “Stuff really looks good, man.”

Those were the words Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara told Max Meyer in the clubhouse following the right-hander’s Grapefruit League debut on Monday afternoon. MLB Pipeline’s No. 35 overall prospect pitched four perfect innings in a 3-0 win over the Mets at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.

Piggybacking No. 4 starter Elieser Hernandez, Meyer struck out five batters while facing a Mets lineup featuring several big leaguers. All five of his punchouts came via the slider, which was the consensus best pitch of the 2020 MLB Draft. On Monday, the 65-grade offering ranged from 87.6-91.4 mph, with a fastball that maxed out at 97.6 mph. Meyer recorded a whiff or called strike on 10 of his 14 sliders, and he incorporated in his developing changeup 10 times.

“No fear,” said Jacob Stallings, who caught him for the first time. “He's coming right after everybody. I thought all of his pitches played well today. Obviously, his slider's kind of his calling card, and I could see why today. It was pretty nasty, and he has a really good feel for it, so that's a good combination.”

After striking out Matt Reynolds to open his outing, Meyer induced flyouts against Luis Guillorme and J.D. Davis in a nine-pitch third. In the fourth, he fanned Dominic Smith to culminate a six-pitch at-bat. Following a hard comebacker, Meyer got Mark Vientos to stare at a 90.7 mph slider for strike three.

In the fifth, Meyer recorded his favorite out of the game (a three-pitch strikeout of Nick Plummer, who once took him deep in a Triple-A game) before Tomás Nido’s comebacker caught Meyer on the left calf. But he stayed in the game following a couple of warmup pitches, and Khalil Lee lined out to left for the final out of the frame. Meyer breezed through the sixth on seven pitches to cap his appearance.

“I felt like I was pretty good,” said Meyer, who felt nervous before taking the mound. “I wasn't as sharp as I wanted to be, but I felt like I was pounding the zone pretty good. I fell behind in a couple of counts, and I just wanted to challenge them. I wanted to let them hit it before I started messing around with the offspeed.”

It was a highly anticipated occasion for the organization, which has challenged the former third overall pick of the 2020 MLB Draft since signing. Without a Minor League season that year, Meyer participated in the alternate training site and fall instructional league, then received an invitation to big league camp in 2021, though he didn't appear in a game.

Meyer, who turned 23 earlier this month, officially began his professional baseball career at Double-A Pensacola, where he captured Double-A Central League Pitcher of the Year honors by ranking fifth in the Minors in ERA (2.27). He finished 2021 with Triple-A Jacksonville, striking out 17 and allowing one earned run in 10 innings across two starts.

Since Meyer has been built up, the Marlins weren't sure whether he would be able to get in a game this spring. Meyer is one of only three top prospects in the abbreviated big league camp, along with outfielders JJ Bleday (No. 69 overall) and Peyton Burdick (Miami's No. 10 prospect). All three are expected to open with the Jumbo Shrimp, whose season begins on April 5.

Miami's rotation projects as Alcantara, Pablo López, Trevor Rogers, Hernandez and Jesús Luzardo. Behind them are prospects Edward Cabrera and Nick Neidert, as well as Cody Poteet. On Monday, the club optioned Braxton Garrett, Paul Campbell, Daniel Castano and Jordan Holloway to Minor League camp. If Meyer continues his progression, he could force the Marlins' hand sooner rather than later and be added to the 40-man roster in some capacity -- whether as a starter or a reliever -- in 2022.

“I think that's smart last year what development wanted to do,” manager Don Mattingly said. “These guys got him into camp, let him experience camp and everything else. But you get them out here, they start trying to do things they shouldn't be doing yet. Now he's been down here a while. He went four today, he probably could have kept going. So he's built up, ready to roll. Getting ready for the season.”