MESA, Ariz. -- The Twins have a lot riding on Alex Meyer. They're rebuilding after losing 96 or more games for three straight seasons, and one of the ways they're trying to do that is switching from a philosophy of finesse-minded strike-throwers to pitchers with more dominating stuff.
In desperate need of power arms, Minnesota traded Denard Span to the Nationals for Meyer in November 2012 and used the fourth overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft on Texas high school fireballer Kohl Stewart. If all goes according to plan, Meyer and Stewart will front the Twins' rotation in the near future and for years to come.
But Meyer's first season with his new organization didn't go as smoothly as Minnesota hoped. He missed two months with a shoulder strain, which limited him to 16 starts and 78 1/3 innings. He'll need to improve the consistency of his secondary pitches and his command to realize his potential as a frontline starter, so the Twins sent him to the Arizona Fall League's Glendale Desert Dogs to get him some more innings.
Meyer earned the starting nod and the victory in the Fall Stars Game earlier this month, striking out three in three scoreless innings. He was tied for the AFL strikeouts lead with 25 strikeouts in 23 innings entering his final AFL start on Wednesday.
I was on hand to watch Meyer work the first three innings of a 3-2 loss to the Mesa Solar Sox, who reduced their magic number to one to clinch a berth in Saturday's AFL championship game. He showed plenty of velocity and did a good job of controlling his extra-large 6-foot-9 frame, but his secondary pitches and his command weren't sharp.
Meyer gave up two runs on three hits and a walk while striking out three. His first pitch of the game was 95 mph and he worked from 94-97. At times he showed some good downward plane and movement on his fastball, particularly in the first inning when he retired the side in order on eight pitches.
However, he also missed up in the strike zone with his fastball, which tended to straighten out when he did. His naturally long arm action also allows hitters to pick up his pitches with relative ease.
After Meyer hit C.J. Cron, the Angels' No. 2 prospect, with a breaking ball to open the second inning, Nats prospect Steven Souza timed a 96-mph fastball and crushed it well over the left-field wall at HoHoKam Stadium. Addison Russell, the A's top prospect, nearly took Meyer out of the park to the opposite field in the third inning, crushing a ball to the warning track in right.
Meyer worked primarily with his fastball and threw just 27 of his 48 pitches for strikes. He mixed in a few curveballs, sliders, which stood out more for their velocity (creeping into the mid-80s) than their crispness, and his changeup didn't distinguish itself either.
Against the last two batters he faced, Cron and Souza in the third inning, Meyer went almost solely to his secondary offerings. Cron got caught out on his front foot with a two-strike changeup but managed to serve it to left field for a single, while Souza fanned on an 86-mph breaker with nice downward bite.
Some other observations from the game:
● Russell was the best prospect on the field on Wednesday, and not just because Mesa third baseman Kris Bryant, the Cubs' No. 4 prospect, had the day off. Russell began the game by lining a 95-mph Meyer fastball, drove another to the track in the third, pulled a 92-mph heater from Yimi Garcia, the Dodgers' No. 12 prospect, for a double in the fifth and reached on an error in the seventh.
Besides hitting the ball hard three of his four times up, Russell looked smooth while ranging up the middle to retire Brent Keys, the Marlins' No. 17 prospect, on a grounder in the second. Shortstop might be the deepest prospect position in the Minor Leagues right now, and once Xander Bogaerts graduates full-time to the Majors with the Red Sox next year, Russell could take over as the game's top shortstop phenom.
He showed off his bat speed on Wednesday, which combined with his balanced right-handed stroke and plate discipline could make him a high-average hitter with 20 homers per season. He also has the quickness and arm to make all the plays at shortstop.
● Corey Seager, Russell's counterpart at shortstop for Glendale, didn't do anything to light up the box score. The Dodgers' No. 2 prospect went 0-for-4, striking out twice on breaking balls from A's prospects Jeff Urlaub and Seth Frankoff, and committed the error Russell reached on when Seager rushed his throw to first base.
But you can't judge prospects from a single box score, and Seager did give a couple of glimpses to his potential, which is considerable. He fought back from an 0-2 count against Cubs prospect Matt Loosen in the first inning and squared up a 93-mph fastball, though it became a hard lineout to left field. He also made a nifty defensive play in the bottom of the first, grabbing a grounder up the middle destined for center field and spinning and throwing to first base to rob Cubs prospect Jorge Soler.
Seager isn't quick enough to play shortstop in the big leagues, but that play showed the athleticism and arm strength that should make him a solid or better defender at third base. Once he settles down at the plate and improves his ability to handle breaking balls, he should hit for plenty of power and average. He's more advanced at the same stage than his brother Kyle, who drilled 22 homers this year for the Mariners.
● Eddie Rosario, one of the best offensive second-base prospects in the game, hit the ball hard four times. The Twins' No. 5 prospect grounded a 91-mph Loosen fastball up the middle for a single, drove a ball to deep center, but got robbed of a double by a brilliant over-the-shoulder catch by future Gold Glove winner Albert Almora, pulled a 95-mph Armando Rivero (Cubs) heater for a lineout to right and tripled off a 92-mph fastball from Angels prospect Mike Morin.
Consistent hard contact is no surprise from Rosario, whose bat speed and hand-eye coordination allow him to barrel balls easily. He also has some surprising pop for a 170-pounder.
A converted center fielder, Rosario still is learning the nuances of second-base play and may never be more than an average defender there. He did make a nifty play in the eighth inning, diving to his left on a hard grounder to steal a hit from Souza. Rosario also made an error on a wild relay throw in the fourth, allowing Matt Skole, the Nats' No. 10 prospect, to trot home after a triple.
● Rivero signed with the Cubs for $3.1 million, but because of the red tape that often comes with Cuban defectors, he didn't pitch in the Minors until late June. He worked only 30 1/3 innings during the regular season and has pitched 11 for Mesa.
He opened the fifth inning with four straight 95-mph fastballs, retiring Seager and Rosario. Rivero walked Dodgers prospect Brian Cavazos-Galvez after getting ahead of him 1-2, then recovered to get Reds prospect Travis Mattair to ground out on an 83-mph curveball. He topped out at 97 mph.
Though Rivero is known more for his splitter than his breaking ball, he didn't show off the splitter. He's already 25 and projects as a reliever, but if he throws enough strikes, he could contribute in the Chicago bullpen at some point in 2014.
Jim Callis is a senior writer for MLB.com.