Down in Arizona to get one last fix of baseball before the lean winter months, I had the distinct pleasure of getting to watch Alex Meyer pitch three innings of shutout ball against the AFL East All-Star lineup — while sitting behind two excellent young fellows from Trackman baseball. There’s very little PITCHf/x in the minor leagues, and usually competitor Trackman’s data is proprietary and under lock and key. But in Arizona, the company enjoys its best chance to openly market their radar-based approach to pitch tracking, and the numbers their system provided were an interesting guide to a dominant outing by the Twins’ best pitching prospect.
The first best thing about Alex Meyer is immediately obvious. His plus velocity is the sizzling kind that makes radar readings almost irrelevant. But Trackman will tell you that Meyer leads the AFL in average fastball velocity at 98.6 mph. On average. On Saturday night, he wasn’t hitting triple digits like he had in earlier games. He still hit 96 and 97 regularly, and the fastball — despite being a no-seam fastball — had enough movement to make plus velocity play plus plus. That pitch, and its great arm-side tail, will help Meyer keep the ball on the ground.
But the Twins need more missed bats. So the good news is that Meyer had 18 strikeouts in 17.1 AFL games, and three in three innings against the All-Stars. Most of the time, Meyer worked off his curve ball. His tight curve has a high spin rate. Trackman, which uses radar to actually observe the ball revolve (PITCHf/x extrapolates spin rate from different measurements), had Meyer at 2697 RPM on the curveball, fourth in the AFL behind Brandon Maurer. Pitchers with a curveball RPM over 2700 in the majors last year had a 13% swinging strike rate.
The tight curve has one of the most platoon-neutral splits in baseball, so Meyer should be able to use it against hitters of both hands — and he did use the pitch to strike out righty Kris Bryant and lefty Brian Goodwin. But no matter, his changeup is also a swing-and-miss pitch, and the pitcher admitted to Jonathan Mayo that he “had a good changeup going for me, which I was able to use effectively” on Saturday night.
If there was a negative in a nearly flawless performance, it comes from Meyer’s shorter stride, which you can see in the video above. Trackman measures a stat call ‘extension,’ and though the Twins pitcher is six-foot-nine, his extension was a mere six-foot-six. Extension adds velocity — that’s how fringey Michael Roth turns his six-foot-one body into a seven-foot-five reach and makes his 88 mph fastball feel like it’s coming in the low nineties. It may not be a big deal for Meyer, since he has such great natural velocity, but a little more stride, or a little more extension on his release point, and he may be even nastier.
Now that Meyer has shown that his shoulder healthy and he can dominate advanced hitting, a few more outings in Double-A next year may be all that stand between him and major league hitters. His team may have incentive to take a slow approach, since a winning season seems unlikely in 2014, but if he keeps hitting the mid-nineties while adding a tight curve and a whiffy change, the pitcher will push the team to a decision. Expect to see Meyer in the bigs this upcoming season, and since he’s ironed out his fastball command, expect great results when he does come up.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.