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It seems like for a long while now, the Minnesota Twins haven’t been able to produce a stud pitcher. Looking back over the last decade or so there’s obviously Johan Santana, but his Cy Young season was 2006. Out of their last two playoff appearances in 2009 and 2010, the team had one regular starter produce a FIP under 3.90 in either season (Carl Pavano at 3.50 in 2009, and his ERA was 4.64). The team has acquired some innings-eating stop-gaps like Kevin Correia, and Ricky Nolasco, but this is a team still looking for some homegrown talent to step to the forefront.
Alex Meyer, a monster of a righty standing 6-foot-9, looks to break that trend. While not truly a homegrown talent – he was acquired in the offseason following the 2012 campaign from Washington for Denard Span – Meyer looks to be the best pitching prospect to come out of this system in quite some time, no offense intended to Kyle Gibson.
Meyer is another in a long line of baseball players turning down contracts after being drafted out of high school to pump their value up in the college ranks. After being drafted in the 20th round of the 2008 draft by the Boston Red Sox, Meyer opted for the University of Kentucky and that move translated to a 1st round selection by the Nationals in 2011.
Meyer had 211.2 innings at the University of Kentucky. In that span, Meyer struck out 253 batters, a big reason why he was so highly regarded going into the 2011 draft.
Here’s the flipside to those 253 strikeouts: Meyer also walked 127 batters. That gives him a K/BB ratio of almost exactly 2/1, a mark that isn’t poor, but it certainly isn’t very good either. That’s not a number that’s inflated by one very bad season, either; Meyer had a BB/9 of 4.1 in his final college campaign, a big improvement over the previous two seasons but still a bad mark.
There is one simple reason why walks are a bad thing, and it’s that they lead to runs. It’s not a mathematical impossibility that pitchers can’t post good ratios when allowing a lot of walks, but here’s an example: Over 2013 and 2014, there are 17 pitchers that pitched at least 100 innings in either year, and a BB/9 over 4.00. Of those 17 pitchers, only four of them have an ERA under 3.74, six of them an ERA under 4.00, and more than half (9 of 17) have an ERA over 4.50. The lowest WHIP among all of them is Francisco Liriano so far this year at 1.29.
That last paragraph should help emphasize that no matter the skills that a pitcher has, if he gets to a certain level of walk-prone pitching, there’s little hope for success.
Meyer was still a young pitcher at that point, yet to hit the minors. The hope would be that professional management would help reign in his wildness.
Through his first minor league season in 2012, moving to High-A after graduating from A-ball, Meyer was very solid. His 129 innings produced a 1.10 WHIP, 2.86 ERA, and most importantly, his walk rate was cut down a lot to just 3.1 BB/9. Sure the added control meant fewer strikeouts, but he still managed 139 K in 129 innings.
Things started to unravel the following year, as Meyer’s 2013 season saw more than two months missed with a shoulder injury. He still managed 70 innings at Double-A, posting a stellar 84 strikeouts in those 70 innings. The old problems were creeping back, though, as his BB/9 moved from 3.1 in 2012 to 3.7 in 2013.
This season has been even worse. Meyer has a BB/9 of 4.6 so far this year, to go along with his 10.6 K/9. Over his last two seasons, Meyer has managed 223 strikeouts in 196 innings, and has 92 walks to go with it. For those that are math-shy, that’s a BB.9 of 4.2 since the start of 2013 (not including his rehab starts in Rookie ball).
Meyer has everything that a team would want in a prospect pitcher: He’s big and strong, creating a vicious downward movement on his mid-to-upper-90s fastball; Meyer features a curveball with very good late bite; the changeup has similar movement to his fastball but can be up to 10 MPH slower.
The fact remains that Meyer has not shown an ability to consistently control the ball.
It seems likely Meyer gets a look in September for the Twins so that will put him on fantasy radars. As a fantasy baseball owner, I am not rushing to pick him up for a late roto charge or to bolster a roster in head to head leagues.
Expectations have to be realistic about what Meyer can do for a fantasy team. I went over the fact that guys with a high walk rate just don’t succeed very often in the Majors. Two rookies that I’ve profiled here before – Jimmy Nelson of Milwaukee and Anthony Ranaudo of Boston – were both guys I said to avoid based on minor league walk rates. In nine starts between them, they have a combined ERA of 4.00 and a WHIP of 1.30.
For 2014, unless it’s a deep league and streamers are needed for an H2H playoff, I would just avoid Meyer. Maybe he pitches very well, but probably he doesn’t. There is just not enough control here for me to feel comfortable pinning fantasy championship hopes on the shoulder of a kid with a terrible walk rate going to play for a terrible team.
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