Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Fall Stars Game

theScore’s Steph Rogers spent a week covering the AFL, talking with many of baseball’s future stars. Check out her talk with Twins starter Alex Meyer – the biggest piece from the Denard Span trade a huge (literally) part of Minnesota’s future rotation plans. Enjoy!

Alex Meyer is pitching tomorrow. I’m kindly told by the folks of Arizona Fall League that if I speak with him today, I can’t speak about tomorrow. (It’s ok, I wasn’t going to). Routine and ritual is a healthy practice of this game, and I respect the process of each individual in the same way I value my own daily routine. Somehow, regardless of your chosen profession, ritual always makes for a more efficient work day.

Standing in the big, cavernous hallway leading to the visitor’s clubhouse at Salt River Fields in November, the 6-foot-9 Indiana-native (and Pacers fan) confirms unprompted that he’s pitching the next day, almost to ensure he’s not asked any further questions. I ask if he’ll talk to me about what he’s learned; the specifics of being a student of the game as honestly as possible. The ominous hallway instantly becomes a classroom, and it’s remarkably easy to picture Meyer as the teacher he wanted to become before pitching became him.

He majored in agriculture when baseball’s demanding schedule made fulfilling the student teaching requirement impossible. Meyer’s towering frame, though it looks better suited to be posted up on the hardwood, still maintains a surprising level of command on the mound. If there’s such a thing as being too tall to pitch, he’s fought hard against it.

Meyer was acquired by the Minnesota Twins in a 2012 trade with the Washington Nationals for Denard Span. In 2013, He struck out an even 100 batters in 13 starts between Double-A New Britain and a three-start stint with the Gulf Coast League’s Twins. He headed to the AFL’s Glendale Desert Dogs after a shoulder strain limited that first season with Minnesota to 78 1/3 innings

You might say he recovered well – easily throwing his fastball up to 97 mph in the desert and earning the Fall Stars start for the West. He highlighted the season with a 5 2/3 shutout innings start on Nov. 8 (with seven strikeouts) on his way to becoming the league leader in K’s.

In the same week he celebrated his 24th birthday, the Twins announced the first round pick of the 2011 draft had garnered an invite to spring training. It might be a long shot for Meyer to crack the rotation (where he ultimately belongs); Minnesota added Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes this winter to boost the starting five, but he’s still warranted the challenge as the organization’s No. 3 prospect, per MLB.com.

Meyer’s long-term influence on the game is yet to be seen, but between listening to the wise words of Glendale’s pitching coach Tom Browning (who pitched the twelfth perfect game in MLB history) and his University of Kentucky teammate James Paxton (who made his debut last September for the Seattle Mariners) he has more than enough mental toughness to add to his highly-anticipated big league arsenal on the field.

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SR: People suggest things all the time to young athletes. What’s a piece of advice you remember that actually made you better when you incorporated it into your game?

AM: From the mental side of it, it would have been realizing that in baseball there’s a lot of failure and when you finally come to realize that you’re not going to be good every single day, whether you’re a hitter — there’s going to be days you’re not going to get hits. There might be two days in a row you don’t get hits. If you’re pitching there’s going to be days where you’re going to give up runs. You might give up a lot of runs. It’s really hard to buy into that coming into pro ball because to get here, you’ve had success before. A lot of guys have never failed before and once you get here, you’re eventually going to. When you realize how to bounce back and adjust from that, I feel like that’s a huge piece of advice. It’s something that I’ve gotten better at — I’m still not where I want to be, but it’s something I’m getting better at.

SR: Was it something you came to realize on your own, or did someone have to kind of say, “Hey, it’s okay to fail.”

AM: Somebody told me. I’d just become so frustrated trying to understand it. told me it’s going to happen and when it does, it’s about how you bounce back from it. Once you truly buy into it and you can have a bad day and leave, let it go, and never think about it again, that’s when you’re going to be your best. It happened in my first year. Actually, my first start of pro ball was really really good and my second start I went two thirds of an inning and I was just in bewilderment about it. I didn’t understand it at all. One of my good friends, James Paxton, was telling me about it and I let it sink it for a minute. Roy Halladay, Matt Harvey, all of those guys go out and they’ve struggled. It’s going to happen to everybody. He told me, “You’re not going to be good every single time out. Just buy into it now. Know that if you have 27 starts a year, three, four of them at least are not going to be what you wanted. It’s how you come back from it.” I heard that and I’m still trying to grasp it as well as I can.

SR: For you, transitioning from the high school game (*Meyer was selected by the Red Sox in the 20th round in 2008 before choosing to attend the University of Kentucky), through college and then to pro ball, how did the game change?

AM: It’s a huge difference. Trying to sit back and think about it and realize all the differences, it’s hard to really even grasp just one of them. It was so simple back then, you know? In high school, you show up an hour before the game, you go out and stretch and throw and you’re good to go. [As a pro] there’s a lot of preparation that goes into it, just the time management of it all. Being on your own, being away from home, it’s a huge adjusting period. Now, it’s like I’ve been doing it my whole life. If I had to do it right out of high school, it would be overbearing almost.

SR: Being here now, can you feel for some of the guys who are doing it at 18 or 19? What’s the perspective for you?

AM: Yeah. Coming from college, I don’t know that I could have done it. It’s a huge adjustment. I tip my cap to those guys, being out here and away from family when they’re 19 years old for seven months out of the year. I mean, I’m lucky; my parents told me to go to college and I listened to them. I’m happy with where I’m at now, but I definitely admire them for being able to do it. It takes someone pretty mature to be able to do it at that age.

SR: When did you start using your current approach and what do your preparations look like?

AM: It’s something where I’m still trying to figure out what works. When things are going good, like I said in high school you just go out there and pretty much know that you’re going to do well. I feel like now, you’re playing some good ballplayers, you’ve got to do your work. For me, I try to do a lot of visualization, just seeing myself out there, seeing myself doing well before it actually happens, and seeing myself executing pitches I’ve been struggling with. I try to be as loose as I can be other than when I’m doing my visualization. I treat it like any other day. I have to go out there and have fun and realize we’re playing a game.

SR: Is the visualization something new or something you’ve been doing ever since you starting playing?

AM: My college coach was really big on that, so once I got into college it was something I spent a lot of time on. I kind of blew it off at first until finally I bought into it and again, there’s definitely positives in being able to do that.

SR: Not necessarily a who by name, but what kind of hitter do you like to face, who would you put in the box?

AM: *laughs* A guy who strikes out a lot!

SR: The free-spirited free-swinger.

AM: Yeah exactly. Then again, those guys can be dangerous too. It’s tough, you know, there’s just so many different types of hitters; the pesky guys who like to just hit the ball on the ground and run, or the guys who like to take the big hacks and try to hit the long ball. It depends on the day, how easy things are going for you that day or if they are even going easy at all for you. It’s hard to pick a single type. I’m starting to get better at throwing to left-handers, so I like that. Righties are hitting me a little bit right now. As long as I get them out, I don’t care who it is.

SR: What’s your current hurdle or challenge, whether it’s something mental or something with your delivery, mechanics, etcetera?

AM: Fastball command is still my number one thing. I feel like obviously there’s still other things I need to work on, but the days I’m going really good I’m commanding my fastball. I still have to work on my changeup, which I’m getting pretty comfortable with, but it’s still not where I need it to be. I’m getting closer with it.

SR: Any little tweaks or things that you’ve done differently since you’ve come to Fall League?

AM: Not really, more it’s just the confidence thing. Tom Browning is doing a really great job with us and showing us his philosophy on things. He’s kind of telling us those same things; that it’s the belief that you can execute a pitch and once you buy into that, it’ll happen. That’s where I’m trying to get to.

SR: Lastly, what’s the benefit to being a part of a winter league with everyone bringing their different backgrounds to a common ground, and the advantage to different coaches from various organizations? Does it help, is it a hinderance?

AM: I think it’s great because if they’re out here managing, they’re pretty good at what they’re doing. Being able to hear different opinions –that’s the thing, as long as your ears are open and you’re not just stubborn and think that you know everything — it’s always good. You don’t have to take in everything people say, but you want to at least hear it. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to learn as much as I can. I feel like I’ve got a good staff around me, that’s helping me out quite a bit. Being out here with Tom Browning, I mean, it’s a guy who’s thrown a perfect game. It’s pretty neat. I just like to sit there and listen to him talk and pick his brain to see his perspective on things. If I can continue to pick his brain for the limited time I have left, it would be so beneficial.