Tall order: Prospect Meyer eyes Majors debut in '14
Towering righty, likely to start season in Triple-A, hopes to impress in spring camp
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With a fastball that sits in the high 90s and a towering 6-foot-9 frame, Twins top pitching prospect Alex Meyer possesses a rare combination for a starting pitcher.
In fact, only eight players 6-foot-9 or taller have made big league starts, with only future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson making more than 170 starts. The list of recent pitchers that tall includes Chris Young, Jeff Niemann and Mark Hendrickson, but none of those pitchers are known for their velocity, and they've had mixed success in the Majors at best.
So Meyer, who is ranked as the No. 28 overall prospect by MLB.com, knows both the advantages and disadvantages that come with his lanky and wiry frame, but believes he has what it takes to be a top-of-the-rotation starter.
He said the key this Spring Training is to continue working on repeating his delivery, while also improving his changeup to go with his 97-mph fastball and wipeout slider.
"That's a big part of it, but I need to just do a better job commanding the zone," Meyer said. "I think I've made good strides with it. I also need to keep progressing with my changeup and throw that when I need to."
Meyer, 24, is in big league camp for the second straight year after being acquired by the Twins in the trade that sent Denard Span to the Nationals.
He's considered a long shot to make the rotation out of Spring Training, as there is just one open spot in the rotation. The top three candidates for that spot are Vance Worley, Samuel Deduno and Scott Diamond, who are all out of Minor League options.
Meyer is still approaching Spring Training as a chance to impress Twins brass, as he's expected to start the year at Triple-A Rochester, but he could be called up early in the season.
"You don't want to come in thinking you don't have a chance, but I know I don't have too much room for error," Meyer said. But it's great to be up here with these guys. The longer you can be up here, the better. I just want to pitch as well as I can. Hopefully, I'll be able to give them confidence that if they need a guy, they'll consider me. So I need to give myself a chance."
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had a similar take; he wants to see more of Meyer this spring to discern just how close he is to being Major League-ready.
"Whether he's ready for this or not, he'll tell us -- he hasn't pitched in Triple-A yet," Gardenhire said. "I don't want any player coming into Spring Training thinking they don't have a chance. But he's a long shot just because he didn't pitch a lot of innings last year, and we want to make sure we do the right thing. But he has a definite chance sometime throughout the year to pitch [in the Majors]."
His first year in the Twins' organization, Meyer posted a 3.21 ERA with 84 strikeouts, 29 walks and allowed just three homers in 70 innings with Double-A New Britain. It was right in line with his career Minor League totals, as the right-hander has a career 2.91 ERA while striking out 10.4 batters per nine innings and walking 3.3 per nine.
But Meyer landed on the disabled list in early June with a shoulder strain, his first injury as a professional. Meyer, though, was able to end the season healthy in the Arizona Fall League, where he had a 3.12 ERA with 28 strikeouts and seven walks in 26 innings for the Glendale Desert Dogs.
"I'd never been hurt before, so I didn't really know what was going on, but when I went to the Fall League, my velocity was back and I felt fine," Meyer said. "And now it feels even better than last year. After resting in the offseason, I feel just like I did coming in last year coming into camp."
After his Fall League experience, Meyer spent the offseason in his hometown of Greensburg, Ind., working as a substitute teacher for the third straight year while finding time to get ready for the season by throwing inside a gymnasium.
So Meyer, who threw his first round of live batting practice on Sunday, said he's happy to be out in the Florida sun and feels more comfortable with the Twins now that he's in his second year with them.
"I was coming over from a new organization last year, so it's good to be more relaxed," Meyer said. "I know a lot of the guys, so there's not too many nerves right now."
Meyer's easygoing nature helps keep him calm on the mound, but he's hoping to make big league hitters feel uneasy in the batter's box in the near future with the Twins.
"I'd love to," Meyer said of potentially making his debut this season. "That's obviously the goal. If I just go out there and do my job and get guys out, and get myself in that position, that's all I can do. I try not to think about it too much or put too much pressure on myself. I just want to get guys out."