Kentucky hurler Meyer rides resurgence to Draft
Right-hander evolved from thrower to pitcher over collegiate career
In a perfect world, Alex Meyer would be in Alabama instead of home in Greensburg, Ind. But sometimes things happen for a reason.
Meyer would much rather have been preparing to pitch in the SEC tournament this week with his University of Kentucky teammates, but the Wildcats suffered through a difficult season and fell short of qualifying. So Meyer headed home to wait for June 6 and the First-Year Player Draft and walked right into the stretch of storms that has ravaged the Midwest and South.
"It's something you don't wish to happen to anybody," said Meyer, who instead of preparing for a postseason start spent time trying to help with the cleanup effort in his small town. "[On Wednesday night], there were three waves of storms. The first wave had tornadoes and winds up to 109 mph."
There's nothing like a healthy dose of perspective to put things in their proper place. Disappointment in a baseball season can dissipate quickly when something like that happens. It's also not the first time a tornado has intersected with Meyer this season. Prior to Kentucky's series at Louisiana State, Meyer's father, David, and sister, Kristen, got stranded because they ran out of gas in a town that had been hit by a tornado and thus didn't have any electricity. Fortunately, an uncle was planning a trip in that direction and was able to bring filled gas cans to them, allowing them to make it in time to see the game.
"He's a trooper," Meyer said. "He's only missed a couple of games. He's made a real effort. And my mom stepped up. She gets really nervous, but she made it to more games this year."
Maybe then it's his mother, Sandy, who deserves the credit for Meyer's strong junior season. The 6-foot-9 right-hander was a prospect coming out of high school in 2008 as a high-ceiling thrower with a ton of arm strength. The Red Sox took a shot in the 20th round, but he went to Kentucky instead, knowing there was much he needed to learn about his craft.
Meyer admits that as a small-town kid from a state not exactly known as a baseball hotbed, things happened -- from jumping on the prospect map to the hordes of scouts that came pouring in -- a little too fast for him. It was a situation he likely found harder to control than his plus fastball at times.
His first two years at Kentucky didn't show a whole lot of consistent improvement, with a 5.73 ERA as a freshman and a 7.06 sophomore mark in a season interrupted by mononucleosis. The evolution from thrower to pitcher was not going particularly smooth.
"In high school, I was able to just throw the ball by everybody, especially in Indiana, which is not the best state for baseball competitively. I came into Kentucky and got my feet wet and had my struggles and learned I couldn't just do that. I learned how to pitch, how to throw a third pitch. James Paxton and Chris Rusin were huge in helping me with that."
Both Paxton and Rusin are in pro ball now, a path Meyer seems much more prepared to face than ever before. Meyer finished the 2011 season with a 2.94 ERA, a .222 average against and 110 strikeouts in 101 innings. While he walked 46, his command was vastly improved and he started to show the makings of a changeup to go along with his fastball and slider. Meyer always knew he had good stuff, but trusting it on the mound was another matter.
"It's been a really long process," Meyer said. "I finally quit growing this year and started putting on weight, but it started with being confident out there and attacking the strike zone and not giving the hitters too much credit. You have to attack them as much as they want to attack me. You learn from your past. It can be the best teacher for you. And I think it was. I knew guys would take pitches and try to get my pitch counts up. The main thing is location and keeping the ball down. I truly believe that. When you try and pitch instead of just throw, it really makes it easier for you. I think it's a big reason why I was successful this year."
And it's a big reason why Meyer's name is being mentioned currently all over the first-round landscape. That doesn't mean Meyer will escape the inevitable struggles nearly every young pitcher faces as he reaches new levels. But considering he virtually majored in bouncing back from adversity in college, he could have a leg up on many of his contemporaries.
"Baseball has so much failure in it. It's how you come back from it," Meyer said. "I'm not saying I had a perfect season, but it was definitely better than the last two seasons. I think that's been huge for me. When you go through failure, you're going to know how to deal with it, how to respond to it. I feel I went through quite a bit of failure, more than I wanted to, I grew from it, I got stronger, I'm a more mature baseball player because of it."
Maybe it's the maturity and the deeper understanding of the art of pitching that are the reasons for Meyer's resurgence as a prospect. Or maybe he should just give mom the props she deserves.
"You can give a little bit of it for her," Meyer said. "She makes it easier for me to do a good job. She's the last one I talk to before we head out to the field. Once we get there, I turn my phone off and get ready for the games."