Friday, March 20, 2015

Do We Push The Panic Button On Alex Meyer?

Image courtesy of Reinhold Matay, USA Today
The summer before the 2013 Major League Baseball season, the Minnesota Twins shook up their outfield in a big way. With first round pick Aaron Hicks seemingly looking ready for a big jump, the Twins dealt both Denard Span and Ben Revere during the offseason. The prized prospect acquired in return for Span was Alex Meyer formerly of the Washington Nationals organization.

The 1st round pick out of Kentucky was billed as a top of the rotation starter. With an electric fastball and college seasoning, he was viewed as someone that should be a relatively quick riser to the big leagues. Due to his commanding 6'9" frame, hitters would be at the mercy of a downward trajectory that would make already imposing stuff even more difficult to hit. Fast forward to 2015 and Meyer is yet to reach the big leagues, and now seems to be teetering on some dangerous territory.

Going into spring training, the Twins had locked down all but one of the rotation spots for the upcoming season. With Meyer providing the most upside of all the candidates, he would be battling against Tommy Milone, Trevor May, and Mike Pelfrey. Now a few weeks into spring training, Meyer is not only battling for his position, but he is seemingly losing ground every time he steps on the mound.

Milone and Pelfrey have both been strong through a fair amount of spring training innings thus far, while May has been largely pedestrian in his two innings pitched. With both Milone and Pelfrey having veteran presences, neither has done much to cede any of their positioning in regards to Meyer. On top of that, Meyer has struggled to make the Twins decision difficult in his own right.

Just yesterday against the Tampa Bay Rays, Meyer pitched two innings in relief. Coming on and issuing walks to three of the first four batters he faced, the Twins prospect immediately found himself in a dangerous situation. Ultimately he got out of the jam, and wound up allowing only one earned run over the course of the six outs he recorded. The issue however is the same one that has caused the Twins pause when it comes to promoting the former Nationals draft pick. While he did strike out three batters, Meyer also issued four walks, a number that looks poor regardless of whether or not it comes in the rotation or out of then pen.

Thus far on the spring, Meyer has pitched 5.2 innings and walked seven batters. He has six strikeouts, which is good enough for a 9.5 K/9 mark, just shy of his career total. The 11.1 BB/9 number is unnerving though, and substantiated concerns about a career 3.8 BB/9 that ballooned to 4.4 over 27 games at Triple-A Rochester a season ago. No matter how many batters he mows down, the Twins are going to be hard pressed to find room for a pitcher that issues so many free bases to the opposition.

At 6'9" Meyer faces plenty of challenges when it comes to things as simple as mechanics. Controlling a consistent arm slot, and using a traditional form prove to be difficult for pitchers with such imposing size. An over the top arm angle forces a pitcher to release each pitch significantly later to get the ball down into the strike zone. Conversely, changing up arm angles is a difficult task because the repetition becomes a daunting task. In his work yesterday against the Rays, Nick Nelson of Twins Daily pointed out the interesting slot Meyer was employing.
At this point, it's fair to agree there is some cause for concern. I have been, and still remain, of the belief that there is very little left to prove for Meyer at the Triple-A level. He has shown that even despite his erratic form, he can overpower and blow by hitters. At the major league level however, that is a much taller task, and pitching consistently with runners on base should spell disaster more often than not. That all adds up to put the Twins in a tough situation.

Right now, there's no reason not to move forward with Milone as their fifth starter. Even with the strikeouts Meyer could bring, he's too much of a risk for the club to rely upon out of the gate. You don't yet want to move a top prospect to the pen, and the walk rate may not ever allow you to do so. Terry Ryan, Paul Molitor, and the Twins brain trust have some tough decisions on their plate, and it's a great thing that we don't have to make them.

The hope would be that both Neil Allen and Eddie Guardado would be able to help Meyer iron things out over the course of the rest of spring training. If he can hone in on his command, the Twins will have unlocked a very valuable asset. If he fails to do so however, things could turn disappointing relatively quickly.