He could make excuses.
Who’d blame him after turning down $2 million from the Red Sox out of high school only to go to Kentucky and face two years of inconsistency? It’d be easy to blame his struggles freshman year on the pressure of being a highly touted high schooler that turned down Boston for Lexington, Ky. It’d be easy to say he was a small-town kid adjusting to the bright lights of Southeastern Conference baseball. It’d be easy to pin some of his struggles on a hard line drive he took off his left calf as a freshman or the case of mononucleosis he came down with as a sophomore. The whole time he was still growing, trying to learn how to control his gangly frame.
It’d be easy to make excuses for his 7.06 ERA last season or the 81 walks he’s allowed over 111 innings at Kentucky. But righthander Alex Meyer doesn’t make excuses. He owns up to the challenges he’s endured over the past two years, and he has been working hard to ensure this year will be different.
When you’re a 6-foot-6 17-year-old in Indiana, you’re basically required to play basketball. Meyer played four years of hoops at Greensburg (Ind.) High, but it was obvious his future was on the diamond.
Greensburg is a small town of about 10,000 people, an hour southeast of Indianapolis. Meyer didn’t get much attention as a pitcher until the summer before his senior year. When he unleashed some mid-90s fastballs on the showcase circuit that summer, that all changed. Meyer was thrust into the spotlight and signed a letter of intent with Kentucky.
Despite pitching well his senior season, Meyer’s commitment to the Wildcats was so strong that he fell to the Red Sox in the 20th round in the 2008 draft. Boston went all-in with their signings that year and made a hard push to pry Meyer away from Kentucky at the deadline.
Meyer said turning down the Red Sox was the toughest decision of his life, but he never second guesses himself.
“I think if you look at how I’ve done so far in school, you can tell why,” Meyer said. “I’ve had games here at school where I’ve done really well, but it hasn’t been consistent. I think one of the things in baseball is that everyone’s going to fail at some point and I don’t know how I would have handled that in that environment, being in minor league baseball. So now, in college baseball, I’ve had some failure. I’ve stubbed my toe, but I’ve learned how to get back up. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why I came here. I wasn’t ready out of high school.”
To Kentucky coach Gary Henderson, Meyer’s initial struggles weren’t a shock.
“They get drafted high because of what they might look like when they’re 25 years old and then they come into our league and they’re expected to be world beaters when they’re 19,” Henderson said. “I spend a lot of time with him just trying to be realistic with where he is and what he needs to do to take steps forward and not expect to have to go out and win the game by himself.”
Meyer came to school as a rangy 18-year-old. Finding the strike zone consistently depended on being able to control his body. But that’s easier said than done, especially when that body is still growing.
“This is the first year I think I finally stopped growing,” Meyer said. “I’ve grown an inch both years I’ve been here. I came to school at about 6-6 and then my freshman year I was 6-7, last year I was 6-8 and I finally stopped this year, I’m still at 6-8. Controlling my body and just being able to repeat my delivery is something coach Henderson has been working on with me. And I feel like now that I have it down pat, I’m able to keep a solid arm slot consistently and, just like anything else, once you’re able to do something over and over it should get easier, and I think it has.”
Meyer has also continued to add strength to his frame. He came to school at 185 pounds and now weighs in at 215.
“He’s a really good worker,” Henderson said. “He’s just diligent. He does everything he’s supposed to do and he does it at a high level. Whether we’re talking about weight room stuff or bullpen work, he has the ability to concentrate and he’s worked diligently over the past two summers to improve his body. He doesn’t take days off. When he goes home, he’s not on the couch. The guy is constantly working on his body, he’s constantly working on his craft. He pays attention, he asks good questions, he’s into it, he’s not too cool, he’s kind of what you’re looking for. Obviously he needs to turn the corner and do what he wants to do on the mound, but he’ll get there.”
Sky’s The Limit
Meyer’s stuff has matured right in stride with his physical development. His first two years, Meyer’s fastball sat in the 92-95 mph range. This fall, his fastball has been taken up a notch, sitting 94-97. He could flirt with triple digits this season.
“He’s right on top of you when he’s throwing the ball and I’ve seen him up to 98 with a hard breaking ball in the upper 80s,” a National League area scout said. “He’s got swing-and-miss pitches, he just doesn’t always know where the ball is going. You go in there and you see him for the right inning and he’s better than anyone you’re going to see this year. But you go in there and see him for the wrong inning and you’re not sure what to make of him. The physical tools are unbelievable, but the consistency just hasn’t been there.”
Meyer said his personal goal this season is to improve upon that consistency and develop a better feel for his changeup. During his first two seasons at Kentucky, he mostly threw four-seam fastballs and spike curveballs. This year, he’s adding a two-seam fastball and a changeup to his repertoire.
“I may have thrown three changeups in college before this year,” Meyer said.Adding two new looks to his arsenal and harnessing his command are the key steps to sustained success for Meyer. But he’ll also have the good fortune of pitching against the new bats in college baseball.
“I went out this fall and I had no idea that they were switching to that,” Meyer said. “I hadn’t heard anything about that and I went out this fall and I thought all the bats were dead. Last year, we were used to seeing a guy hit 6 or 7 balls out in a round of BP, and now we’re lucky if anybody gets a couple out.”
Because of Meyer’s shaky track record and the fact that he hasn’t pitched the past two summers, it will likely take scouts a few good starts before they are completely sold on him as a prospect. But, with his stuff, the sky’s the limit.
“I really think you could stack him up against anyone and I don’t think there’s better stuff out there,” the scout said. “But some of these other guys have just done it consistently for so much longer that you’re going to feel a lot more comfortable. He could put it all together and really be one of the better guys in this class. It’s just a matter of how long it’s going to take for him to do it and how much risk you want to take on with taking him.”