Nationals Get Their Man In Span

The Deal
The Twins system is thin on impact starting pitchers, and club officials have been frank in their admission of that fact. So the Nov. 29 trade that sent 28-year-old center fielder Denard Span to the Nationals for 6-foot-9 power righthander Alex Meyer wasn’t a huge surprise.

The Twins and Nationals have been trade partners recently, in the 2011 Wilson Ramos-for-Matt Capps deal, and Span had been a rumored Nats target for some time. Washington got its man, and the Twins—who have a plethora of minor league outfield talent, from Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks in Double-A to 2012 first-rounder Byron Buxton—got a potential frontline starter in Meyer, albeit one who carries some risk.

The Twins have had plenty of success developing homegrown hitters in the last 15 years, from 1997 first-rounder Michael Cuddyer to 1999 third-rounder Justin Morneau to 2001 first-rounder Joe Mauer through speedy first-round outfielders Denard Span (2002) and Ben Revere (2007). But the Twins have flirted with 100 losses each of the last two seasons as their once-plentiful supply of Brad Radke clones dried up on the mound. Minnesota hasn’t drafted and developed a pitcher who pitched in the big leagues since reliever Anthony Slama, a 39th-round pick in 2006 who signed as a fifth-year draft-and-follow in May 2007.

 
Twins Acquire
Alex Meyer, rhp
Age: 22. Born: Jan 3, 1990 in Greensburg, Ind.
Ht.: 6-9. Wt.: 220.
Bats: R. Throws: R.
School: Kentucky.
Career Transactions: Selected by Nationals in first round (23rd overall) of 2011 draft; signed Aug. 15, 2011.

   

Club (League) Class W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
Hagerstown (SAL) LoA 7 4 3.10 18 18 0 90 68 33 31 4 34 107 1.13
Potomac (CAR) HiA 3 2 2.31 7 7 0 39 29 11 10 2 11 32 1.03

Meyer has frontline stuff and a chance to start, a combination in extremely short supply in the game but especially in the Twins system. Meyer was a prospect in high school out of Greensburg (Ind.) High, where he focused on baseball instead of his home state’s top sport, basketball. The Red Sox drafted him in the 20th round out of high school and offered him $2 million to sign at the deadline; already represented by the Scott Boras Corporation, Meyer agonized over the choice but chose to stick with his Kentucky commitment. He pitched three seasons for the Wildcats, ranking sixth in the country in strikeouts per nine innings as a freshman. As he matured into his 6-foot-9 frame, his performance skyrocketed, and he was one of the Southeastern Conference’s top pitchers in 2011, going 7-5, 2.94 with 110 strikeouts in 101 innings. Meyer got his $2 million after all when he signed with the Nationals as the 23rd overall pick.

His mid-August signing delayed his pro debut until April, but he didn’t disappoint, hitting 97 mph consistently in that first start with a firm upper 80s changeup that featured impressive sink and a hard, biting slider with good power as well. Meyer said in a September interview that he throws mostly two-seam fastballs now and still gets that mid-90s velocity, putting him in Kevin Brown territory for a power sinker. His fastball touched 99 in the Futures Game. Most scouts consider the slider to be a plus pitch now when it’s on, and some give it 70 future grades for its depth, power and 11-to-5 tilt. His slider hit 87 in the Futures Game. Fastball command will determine Meyer’s long-term role as a starter or reliever, but his track record shows that as he’s matured physically and gained strength, he’s added body control and has thrown more strikes, with an encouraging ratio of 3.14 walks per nine innings in 2012.

 
Nationals Acquire
Denard Span, cf
Age: 28. Bats: L. Remaining Commitment: Two years, $11.25 million, followed by a $9 million club option ($500,000 buyout) for 2015.
Contract details courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
   
Club (League) Year AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OBP SLG
Minnesota (AL) 2012 .283 128 516 71 146 38 4 4 41 47 62 17 .342 .395
3-Year Totals .271 351 1429 193 387 73 19 9 115 134 172 49 .334 .367

Impact on the Nationals depth chart: Span is under contract for two more seasons and should be entering his prime years. He fits the center fielder/leadoff profile to a tee, though his arrival in Washington could signal the end of the Adam LaRoche era. The first baseman is a free agent, and with Span in tow, Washington will deploy Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth on the outfield corners and use Michael Morse (and Tyler Moore) at first base. Span’s biggest question mark long term is being a bit injury prone, as he had a concussion that hijacked his 2011 season. He’s played 198 games the last two seasons.

 

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