On Alex Meyer, the Minnesota Twins, and Starting Pitchers

Today I’m rankled by the sheer number of people upset with the handling of Alex Meyer by the Minnesota Twins. That is, people legitimately upset that he has been handled with kid gloves by the organization who paid a rather steep price — Denard Span — to acquire him.

I think what makes me the most upset is the prevalent notion that the Twins deliberately hold down their prospects. Even if you felt this was true with Trevor May and Kyle Gibson, what exactly did they do out of the chute for you to feel vindicated by this?

The general notion that any team is holding back non-ace pitchers is nothing short of hilarious, regardless of their age. None of the guys listed so far in this post qualifies as such, and it’s not as though the Twins are/were short on reasons to keep any of them down. You could make a case for Gibson, but his progression as a big leaguer has shown he needed time to get all his stuff back, too.

It’s just sort of silly that this practice has become synonymous with a Twins team that has in fact promoted guys — pitchers and position players — rather aggressively in recent memory, even if detractors flat out refuse to acknowledge that fact. Jose Berrios got a start at Triple-A last year — emergency, but a start nonetheless — and spent a large part of his season at Double-A New Britain — as a 20-year-old. According to Baseball Reference, Berrios was nearly five years younger than his Double-A foes on average.

Detractors have also conveniently forgotten that Matt Garza blitzed through the Twins system, reaching Triple-A for the first time in 2006 — ONE YEAR after he was their first-round selection. His big league debut came a year later, but he rifled through three levels in one season, though his cup of coffee at Triple-A that season makes Berrios’ look like an espresso shot. To that end, the Twins have pushed Byron Buxton as fast as his health would allow as well. He’d no doubt be knocking on the doorstep of the big leagues with a healthier 2014 season.

If the argument is that you have to see what you have in Meyer at age 25, that’s incredibly simplistic. For one, you’re assuming the Twins’ brass can’t have a pretty good grasp of seeing what they have in him from seeing him down on the farm. Why is your assumption that he could show more in the big leagues holding more water in your head than the Twins’ evaluation that he isn’t ready, and thus isn’t likely to magically improve on the grandest stage? I guess I just don’t get it. For someone with no stake in Meyer’s development other than being a fan, of course you want to see him and aren’t particularly concerned with where he is on his development curve. You aren’t paid to think that way. You don’t have the pressure of justifying the trade to acquire him.

And if you look at Meyer’s 2014 numbers at Triple-A, you could be somewhat convinced he is ‘ready’. He posted a 3.52 ERA, struck out 10.6 batters per 9, and posted an iffy but not ultimately terrible 1.38 WHIP.

But it’s the underlying stuff that isn’t good:

* In 27 starts, Meyer only threw 130.1 innings. That’s an average of between 4.2 and 5 innings per start.

* In nine of his starts — exactly one-third — he did not pitching long enough (5 innings) to qualify for a win (six losses, three no decisions).

* Meyer got outs in the seventh inning just one time last year.

* This wasn’t for a lack of trying, as Meyer broke the 100-pitch threshold three times and the 90-pitch benchmark another four times.

* Meyer has pitched through seven innings just once in his professional career, and it was way back in May 2012.

* The Red Wings only played through August. Before Aug. 1, Meyer had a 3.05 ERA, .222/.323/.319 opponents’ line, and 10.2 K/9. In August, Meyer had a 5.63 ERA, .316/.393/.490 opponents’ line, and 14.1 K/9. The strikeouts are certainly nice, but everything else is ghastly.

I watched a handful of those last starts via MiLB.tv, including the finale from which he was forced after just one inning and 28 pitches. Nothing about him looked big-league ready to me, and he quite frankly looked like he might be out of gas, or in the case of the last start, hurt.

I don’t blame the Twins for handling him with care. There are a lot of moving pieces in his delivery with how tall he is and how long his limbs are. Quite frankly, it’s troubling that his walk rate spiked at 4.4 per nine innings last year after staying relatively in check the past few years.

It still seems as though Meyer is on the cusp, but it’s at least defensible that the Twins would like to get a better look at Tommy Milone and Trevor May in the No. 5 starter’s spot first. At least that’s my opinion.

About Brandon Warne

Sportswriter trying to make it.
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