HOUSTON -- When 14-year Major League veteran Darin Erstad calls you one of the best competitors he’s ever seen, there may not be higher praise. Erstad, a hard-nosed player who was a key contributor to the Angels' 2002 World Series championship and finished his career with the Astros in 2008-09, was the head coach at the University of Nebraska when Astros outfielder Jake Meyers starred for the Cornhuskers.
Erstad, who stepped down from his role at Nebraska in 2019 following an eight-year tenure as the head coach at his alma mater, isn’t surprised Meyers reached the big leagues so quickly, nor is he surprised to see how strong of an impression the rookie has made thus far. Meyers entered Monday having taken over as the starting center fielder for the Astros, hitting .314 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 27 games.
“When you have talent with work ethic and are a competitor, it’s a pretty good place to start,” Erstad said. “He’s just a pleasure to be around. He’s turned himself into a phenomenal ballplayer.”
Meyers’ father, Paul, was an All-American player at Nebraska in the 1980s and was drafted in the fourth round by the Giants in 1986. Jake followed in his father’s footsteps, accepting a scholarship offer to Nebraska during his sophomore year of high school in Omaha. The Astros took him in the 13th round of the 2017 Draft following a stellar three-year career at Nebraska.
“You’ve got to check some boxes to be able to play this game and play it for a long time. You’ve got to be mentally tough and you’ve got to continue to work,” Erstad said. “Obviously, he has the talent to be there. I think the one big thing you have to do that is love the game of baseball. I believe he truly loves the game of baseball. That’s a pretty good place to start, and obviously, staying healthy. He’s going to bring his lunch pail every single day and I’d be shocked if he ever mentally takes a day off.”
Meyers was a two-way player at Nebraska, finishing his career with a .307 batting average and a 17-4 record and 2.61 ERA on the mound. He was named third-team All-American in 2017 by Baseball America. Erstad said Meyers didn’t throw hard enough to be a pitcher after college, though he did possess a great changeup.
“He just out-competed the other team,” he said. “The mentality has always been there. In high school, he had it. His dad had it when his dad played. His dad, still, has it as a fan and he comes from a very competitive, intense family. He just put it all together and it’s fun to watch.”
Meyers only hit three homers during his three seasons at Nebraska but developed some power with the Astros. He blasted 16 homers in 68 games this year at Triple-A Sugar Land before the Astros called him up to the big leagues on July 31.
“He wanted to hit for more power and you just could tell he was trying to do it, but he just wasn’t quite strong enough to utilize launch angle and all that good stuff,” Erstad said. “Obviously, he’s gotten stronger and made some adjustments with his swing and put himself in great position and found that balance between power and contact. It’s just fun to watch that development. I take zero credit for it. He’s just a hard-working kid, works a lot with his dad and they’ve obviously put together a really good plan. He’s in a good spot.”