While the Atlanta Braves were busy spending just over $75 million on B.J. Upton, the Washington Nationals decided to take the trade route to fill their center field needs, sending right-handed pitching prospect Alex Meyer to Minnesota in exchange for Twins center fielder Denard Span.
You’ll hear a lot about how this was a low asking price by the Twins for Span, and that’s true. The general consensus is that the Twins could have gotten more for a quality player who still has three years left of team control. But that is not a knock on Meyer as much as it is the Twins front office and the fact that they likely should have gotten more than just one prospect back in the deal.
Meyer is a big of an enigma, but one that we know more and more about with each pitch he throws. The 6’9″ righty out of the University of Kentucky was taken late in the first round by the Nationals in 2011 and was considered a project. Like so many tall pitchers, he had some issues repeating his mechanics and, as a result, issues with his control. But scouts and general managers like to dream on tall pitchers.
Meyer made dramatic improvements while at Kentucky, and those carried over into his first professional season. In 2012, Meyer went 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA while splitting time between Low and High-A ball. Most importantly, his control was under control enough, as he walked just 3.1 batters per nine innings.
The questions about Meyer, and reason why many believe that he alone wasn’t enough of a price for Span, is whether or not Meyer will be able to remain a starter. Part of that speculation is over the development of his changeup, which he will need to be effective against lefties and thus remain a starter. But some of that speculation is because of just how damned good he could be as a reliever.
You see, baseball decision-makers are jerks just like the rest of us, and when they see someone like Meyer, with his giant frame and wipe-out slider, they immediately see a reliever who could be death on righties. Imagine a slider starting at a right-handed hitter’s back that looks like it’s coming from the shortstop and you’ll understand what I mean. The problem is that sometimes these dreams get in the way of real development.
A trade to the Twins could ultimately allow Meyer the time to develop properly. The Nationals are in win-now mode, and if he had continued his success in their system, the Nats may have been tempted to convert him to a reliever simply to get him to the majors more quickly.
The Twins will still have that temptation, but have the time to be more patient if they choose. Meyer could be a very effective starter if they let him develop, but there’s little reason he shouldn’t be, at the very least, a strong bullpen arm.
If he develops into a starter, this deal doesn’t look as lopsided. If he ends up as a reliever, or doesn’t make it to the majors at all, the Twins will have given away one of their few valuable bargaining pieces for virtually nothing.