PHOENIX—Indiana school students undoubtedly do a double take when they walk into their classroom and see Alex Meyer as their substitute teacher. Standing 6-foot-9, the Twins pitching prospect doesn't exactly fit the stereotype of the normal fill-in teacher.
Meyer, 23, is now getting his own extra schooling this fall as a member of the Arizona Fall League's Glendale Desert Dogs, and is earning straight A's with his performance in the first four weeks of the season. The Kentucky product has a 2-0, 3.63 record in five starts, with an impressive 17-5 strikeout to walk ratio. He was the starting pitcher in the annual Fall Stars Game, earning the win for the AFL West team with three scoreless innings in front of a national TV audience on the MLB Network.
After missing part of the 2013 season with a shoulder problem that did not require surgery, Meyer came to Arizona looking to make up for lost time after throwing only 78 1/3 innings, mostly at Double-A New Britain. He also was planning to refine the least successful of his three pitches as he wraps his first season in the Twins organization.
"I'm definitely throwing my changeup more than I usually do," Meyer said. "That's what (the Twins) have been harping on to throw more and be able to get comfortable with that third pitch as a starter. I have been throwing it more. It's getting better but it's still not where I want it to be. There's days where it's really good and there's days where it's not good, so I've got to find that middle ground where I can have it in my back pocket at all times and be able to pull it out when I need to."
Meyer's fastball has jumped a tick in Arizona, ranging from 95-100 mph after being in the 94-98 range during the regular season. The increased velocity has added a little extra life to the heater, but Meyer knows that he needs keep working on his fastball command. He also has an impressive hard curveball that he can throw for strikes.
Meyer pitched well in Double-A after returning to the rotation, finishing with a 4-3, 3.21 mark while striking out 84 batters in 70 innings. He ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the Eastern League. Based on his performance both in New Britain and Arizona, Meyer may not be too far from contributing at the big league level. His progress has been impressive considering he only has two seasons of minor league ball under his belt.
While he's relatively new to pro ball, it seems like Meyer has been on the prospect radar for much longer. The Indiana native was a potential first-round pick out of high school in 2008, but his strong college commitment to Kentucky dropped him to the 20th round, where the Red Sox took a flyer on being able to sign him. He spurned a $2 million bonus offer, but Meyer doesn't regret not signing out of high school, believing that he had the chance to mature at Kentucky. He got a $2 million bonus three years later from the Nationals.
"The main thing for me was to go there and be on my own for the first time in my life," Meyer said. "I was able to go there and grow up quite a bit. Then getting to play in the SEC was a big deal and to be able to face some real competition other than just high school hitters was good."
Meyer certainly didn't lose his prospect stock after his three years in school, with Nationals taking him 23rd overall in the 2011 draft. After one year in the Washington organization, Meyer was traded to the Twins even up for big league outfielder Denard Span. He was shocked at being traded so soon after starting his career until he realized who else was involved in the deal.
"I sat there and thought about it for a second," Meyer said. "I was sitting there kind of smiling and thinking, 'I just got traded straight up for a good major league player.'"
He's now glad to be part of the rebuilding effort currently underway in Minnesota and is looking forward to getting to Target Field as a member of the Twins rotation. Arizona Fall League observers agree Meyer is making steady progress and projects as a solid starter in time.
"That's an awfully good arm and a big strong guy," said one long-time scout covering the AFL. "He's still getting coordinated, typical for tall pitchers. He needs to find a slot and repeat his delivery, which will help his curveball."
The goal for Meyer was to get an extra 30 innings under his belt this fall. He should reach that total in the last two weeks of the season, after which he'll head back to Indiana for his off-season job in the classroom where he'll again take his place as one of Indiana's tallest substitute teachers.
• Tyler Naquin (Indians) and Matt Purke (Nationals) were named Players of the Week for the season's third week. Purke had not given up an earned run in his first three starts before yielding five runs in three innings in his most recent outing.
• Athletics manager Bob Melvin will be inducted into the Arizona Fall League Hall of Fame on Friday, Nov. 8 prior to the night game at Scottsdale Stadium.