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Meet Max Meyer, Minnesota's Fireballing, Fire-Breathing Two-Way Star

Max Meyer’s fastball tickles 100 mph. His slider may be the best in the country. He’s probably Minnesota’s best athlete and last year showed solid ability at the plate.

Major league scouting directors voted him a first-team Preseason All-American as a two-way player this year.

For all of that raw ability, however, Meyer’s greatest strength may be his competitiveness. He thrived as the Golden Gophers’ closer as a freshman in 2018, saving 16 games to help them win the Big Ten Conference and reach super regionals.

The righthander was excellent in back-to-back summers with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. Tapped this year as Minnesota’s Opening Day starter, he lived up to the hype and impressed for a large group of scouts against Oregon at the Angels College Classic in Tempe, Ariz.

No matter his role, no matter the stage, the moment never seems to be too big for Meyer. He says that’s true away from the diamond as well. No matter what he’s doing, Meyer wants to win.

“I’ll be in the championship for sure for everything,” he said. “I like to say that.”

That mentality has worked well for him so far at Minnesota. In his first two years of college, he went 7-6, 2.10 with 18 saves and 141 strikeouts in 120.1 innings. With Team USA, he went 1-2, 1.71 with 25 strikeouts and six walks in 21 innings.

Meyer’s stuff has played especially well in the bullpen, where he can air out his fastball and slider. Now, he has to learn how to refine that approach, so it plays over the course of the full season as Minnesota’s ace.

“He’s a fierce competitor,” Minnesota coach John Anderson said. “I think that’s his greatest strength and weakness. I think sometimes it gets in the way because he doesn’t want anybody to hit the ball sometimes.

“You’re not going to get deep in games as a starter if you have that mentality. I think that’s the next step as a pitcher is to learn how to be a little bit more efficient with his pitch count and get deeper in games.”

In addition to refining his approach to be a bit more efficient, Meyer has worked hard since the end of last season to develop a changeup to give himself a third offering.

That development began over the summer with Team USA. Anderson and pitching coach Ty McDevitt sent Meyer with the instruction to hone his changeup and not just use his fastball and slider to blow hitters away. Meyer didn’t pitch in the fall but continued the work during the preseason, eschewing his slider to instead work on his fastball command and changeup development.

Meyer said during the winter that his changeup felt like his best pitch. He didn’t use it much on Opening Day against Oregon, but he figures to work it in more often this spring as he becomes more comfortable with the pitch.

What Meyer did show on Opening Day was increased velocity. His fastball registered as high as 100 mph and sat in the mid 90s even at the end of his outing. Meyer said his work with strength coach Scott McWilliams has helped him bulk up—he’s now listed at 185 pounds, up about 15 pounds from his freshman year—and helped him increase his power on the mound and at the plate.

Anderson said the work Meyer did on his fastball command also helped improve his arm speed.

That kind of payoff is not out of the ordinary for Meyer. Anderson said throughout his career that any time the Gophers coaches have presented him with an area to work on, he’s enthusiastically attacked it.

“Whenever we’ve challenged him, he’s always been willing to learn, grow and try to get better at it,” Anderson said. “He’s still learning, he wants to learn, he’s still growing. It’s going to be fun to have him try to put more pieces of the puzzle together for his career.”

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Taking that next step is important for Meyer, not just this season so that he can be the Gophers’ ace, but also for his professional future. He has talent as a hitter—he bats lefthanded—but he began the season ranked No. 30 on the top 200 draft prospects list for his ability on the mound.

Meyer’s fastball/slider combination alone could make him a first-round pick—the program’s first since the Twins selected Glen Perkins 22nd overall in 2004. But as a smaller righthander—he’s listed at 6 feet—proving that he can hold his electric stuff deep into games and pitch effectively with a third offering would help convince pro teams that he can be a starter at the next level and further raise his draft stock.

For his part, Meyer isn’t worried about that aspect of the season. He said he’s content to let the process play out and just wants to be picked by a team that wants him.

For some players, that might be lip service. But Meyer’s draft experience as a high school senior suggests that it isn’t.

Meyer was one of the best prep players in Minnesota in 2017 but wasn’t considered a premium prospect nationally. He didn’t expect to be drafted, but the hometown Twins picked him in the 34th round. When it happened, Meyer wasn’t sitting around, monitoring the draft. He was on his way home with his friends after shopping at an outlet mall.

“My parents were probably happier (than me),” Meyer said. “I go home to them and my dad’s tearing up, and you could tell it was a special moment for them. It was really fun.”

Meyer will undoubtedly be a little more locked into the draft this time. Before then, he and the Gophers have a lot of baseball to play. After that banner 2018, Minnesota took a step back last season. They got off to a slow start to the season and so, despite a second-half rebound that saw them finish tied for third in the Big Ten, they finished the season 29-27 and missed the NCAA Tournament.

Minnesota’s home regional in 2018 is Meyer’s favorite moment during his college career. To get back to that level this spring, he said the Gophers need to stay loose. As an upperclassman and one of the team’s jokers, some of that responsibility falls on him.

“We got tight last year, and it didn’t feel like a fun environment,” Meyer said. “Now, we’ve got guys just having fun with the game, staying loose out there and I think that’s a big factor.”

As Minnesota begins the spring, much is resting on Meyer’s shoulders. Ace, DH, joker, clubhouse leader, he’s ready to help any way he can.

“I just love playing baseball,” Meyer said. “It’s just important to have fun and help my team in any way I can."

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