Zulgad: Newcomer Alex Meyer excited to make his pitch for Twins
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Alex Meyer stands 6-foot-9 and possesses a fastball that can reach nearly 100 miles per hour. Thus, the lanky righthander didn't have too many problems blowing the baseball past helpless hitters when he was pitching for the University of Kentucky.
But it didn't take Meyer long to realize things would be different at the professional level.
As Meyer recalls it, in the first inning of his first ever pro start for Class A Hagerstown in the South Atlantic League last year, he went to an 0-and-2 count on a hitter from the Pittsburgh Pirates' affiliate.
This was where Meyer was used to just reaching back and throwing an unhittable fastball. So that's what he did. The only issue is the batter was ready for the pitch and got the barrel of the bat on the ball. The result was a groundout to second, but that wasn't the point. The point was the ball was put in play.
"It was the first time in my life I could remember that somebody got around to a ball like that up in the zone," Meyer said. "That's when you realize, 'I have to work up, down and out.' It's just part of pitching."
The 23rd-overall pick in the first round of the 2011 amateur draft by Washington, Meyer spent last spring and summer at Hagerstown and then Potomac learning how to pitch at the professional level.
The Twins are hoping to be the beneficiaries of that development after they sent center fielder Denard Span to the Nationals in late November for the 23-year-old. Meyer was ranked as the second-best prospect in the Washington organization after posting a 2.86 earned-run average with 139 strikeouts, 45 walks and only six home runs given up in 129 innings last season in his stops at Low-A and High-A.
Standing in the Twins' clubhouse at Hammond Stadium on Friday morning, Meyer admitted he was a bit nervous before reporting to spring training this week as a non-roster invitee.
"Just a little bit in regards to last year was my first year with the Nationals and I was just starting to figure everything out there," he said. "Get everybody's names down and everything and when I finally felt like I did that I got traded. It's kind of a small thing, but that's something that's part of life. Everywhere you go there's going to be new people and everything. But now it's good. I feel good, I feel ready and just ready for games to get started."
A native of Greensburg, Indiana, Meyer possesses manners that are as good as his fastball and his power slider, which can reach the upper 80s. There is not one hint of arrogance as Meyer speaks, although there is a certain confidence he seems to carry.
If there is one way to summarize Meyer's personality and approach, it's that he "gets it."
"I feel like my job when I'm here is to be quiet and try to take in as much as I can," he said. "Obviously, I'm not an experienced guy. I'm not going to boast my opinion on things. These guys here, they are good pitchers, they put their time in and they know how it works. I don't. So the job for me is going to be to be quiet, pay attention to detail and just see what they do to go about their business."
The fact Meyer is sharp is of the utmost importance for one simple reason. It's that intelligence that allows him to realize that being a thrower might have worked in high school and college but won't be enough anymore.
That ground ball to second last spring might have caused some top prospects to roll their eyes, reach back and try to throw harder the next time. But for Meyer, that ground ball helped him to realize he had work to do in order to become more of a pitcher. He needed to work on his craft.
"It definitely opened up my eyes to that side of minor league baseball because in college there are maybe two or three pretty good hitters that you've got to be able to pitch to and then the rest you can make some mistakes and get away with it," he said. "But I don't feel like that's the way it is here. If you make a mistake, guys are going to punish you, even at the lower levels."
Meyer expects that he will start this season at either High-A or Double-A, but admits he wants to move through the Twins' system as quickly as possible.
The same will hold true for righthander Trevor May, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies this winter in the Ben Revere trade. May has been in the minor leagues for three seasons -- he pitched at Double-A in 2012 -- and therefore is ahead of Meyer in terms of the current time table.
Nonetheless, the two will be linked together because they were acquired in the same offseason and represent the reason why Twins fans will have hope about the future of the starting pitching in this organization for the coming seasons.
Meyer knows if he continues to show improvement his wait to reach the big leagues shouldn't take that long. That's certainly different than the situation with the Nationals, who are one of baseball's best young teams and have a starting staff that features Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, Dan Haren and Ross Detwiler.
Can you say roadblocks?
"Yes, I was thinking that," said Meyer, who also added that he attempted to watch the Nationals pitchers as much as he could on television last summer because there was so much to learn. "They are really good, but they are really young and they are paid for for the future. For the next three years, I think everybody is paid for but one guy.
"They've been going out, they've been getting guys like Edwin Jackson, Dan Harren. So, obviously, it's a very tough rotation for anyone to crack. I think that just speaks on their organization, what they are trying to do with a win-now purpose.
"I feel like this, for me, hopefully could be the ideal situation. One of the first things I was told when I came over here was the need for pitching. My job is going in and trying to fill a position, which I understand it may not be at the beginning of the season, but at some point I want to make sure I do my job and be able to get up there and help the organization."
Meyer admits he has given thought to making his big-league debut this summer at Target Field.
"I think if I told you I don't think in those terms it would be a lie," he said. "I think for anybody who hasn't been there yet that's all they think about. I feel like if I do my job ... that's the one thing I've heard also is if you throw well in this organization they are going to move you (up). They're not going to hold you back. But it still comes down to me doing my job, throwing strikes and getting guys out. So as long as I do that I think that will take care of itself."