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Jamie Vaught: Former Wildcats’ pitching star Meyer one step away from reaching his dream


Former UK righthander Alex Meyer competed for a spot in the Minnesota Twins starting rotation last spring. He is currently on the roster of the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings (Photo from RRW)

Former UK righthander Alex Meyer competed for a spot in the Minnesota Twins starting rotation last spring. He is currently on the roster of the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings (Photo from RRW)

 

When Alex Meyer was selected by the Washington Nationals in the 2011 MLB draft, the highly-regarded pitcher became one of UK’s highest draft picks in school history, the 23rd overall selection in the first round.
 

And the 6-9, 225-pound right-hander is getting close to the major leagues, now pitching for the Minnesota Twins’ top affiliate, the Rochester Red Wings of the Class AAA International League. During spring training with the Twins, Meyer was battling for a fifth spot on the starting rotation, but the parent club decided he needed more work on pitching mechanics.
 

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“There’s still a lot that I need to work on, but that’s going to be something I want to do the rest of my career,” said Meyer, who is currently on Minnesota’s 40-man roster and is ranked No. 29 on MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects for 2015. “There aren’t a lot of Clayton Kershaws or Max Scherzers running around, so there’s always going to be more to work on and improve in.”
 

The hard-throwing Meyer and the Red Wings — who are guided by ex-Chicago Cubs manager Mike Quade — played at Louisville this past weekend in a three-game series with the Bats. The former Wildcat saw action Saturday night but didn’t pitch very well, giving up nine hits and eight earned runs in 2.2 innings in a 10-5 setback.
 

Going into this week’s action, Meyer has been inconsistent, struggling in some of his six starts but had two quality starts (six innings or more with three runs or less permitted). One of his best outings was the Syracuse game in late April when he went six innings with 11 strikeouts, allowing no runs and only two hits. After that loss to Louisville, his ERA has ballooned to 7.62.
 

But last season was a good one for Meyer, who was sent to the Twins for outfielder Denard Span in late November 2012 after playing one year in the Nationals’ farm system. The ex-Kentucky star, along with current Tampa Bay Rays hurler Nathan Karns, led the International League in strikeouts with 153 in 130.1 innings, compiling a 7-7 mark and 3.52 ERA, in 2014.
 

Interestingly, two of Meyer’s current and former teammates both at Rochester and UK are pitchers Logan Darnell (who had four starts with the Twins in a brief stint last season) and Taylor Rogers.
 

Two of Alex Meyer’s current and former teammates both at Rochester and UK are pitchers Logan Darnell  and Taylor Rogers (Photo from Rochester Red Wings)

Two of Alex Meyer’s current and former teammates both at Rochester and UK are pitchers Logan Darnell and Taylor Rogers (Photo from Rochester Red Wings)

The 25-year-old Meyer — a substitute teacher in his hometown of Greensburg, Ind., during the offseason — was asked about playing in the minor league as opposed to the SEC.
 

“I have definitely enjoyed my experiences playing in professional baseball up to this point,” commented Meyer, who was a second-team All-SEC starting pitcher. “I have had the opportunity to see two organizations and learn from a lot of different people who are very well respected throughout the game.
 

“In regards to how different Rochester is from the SEC, there’s a pretty substantial difference. SEC baseball, in my opinion, is without a doubt the best conference in college baseball, but it wouldn’t be fair to compare it to AAA baseball let alone minor league baseball. I think a good Friday night SEC matchup may be similar to a High-A game, but it’s really tough to say.”
 

During his last year at UK, Meyer led the Wildcats in starts (14), wins (seven), ERA (2.94), complete games (four), complete-game shutouts (two), innings pitched (101) and strikeouts (110). He also finished the regular season as the SEC leader in strikeouts, strikeouts looking (48), innings pitched per game (7.21), complete games and complete-game shutouts.
 

Named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll in 2009 and 2010, Meyer also was ranked among the SEC leaders in several other statistical categories in 2011.
 

After leaving Kentucky and SEC following his junior year, Meyer added there is significant adjustment that he had to make in the pro ranks.
 

“There is absolutely a learning curve coming into professional baseball,” said Meyer, who is UK’s fourth (and most recent) overall first round pick. “It’s very different from the college game. You’re depended on to do a lot more yourself in pro ball, both physically and mentally. You have to come to the field every day or the game can chew you up and spit you out pretty quickly, so it really is important to stay on top of yourself daily.”
 

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By the time he arrived at UK in 2008, Meyer, rated as the No. 5 prospect in high school by Baseball America, was a 20th-round pick of the Boston Red Sox. He was also chosen Indiana Mr. Baseball while at Greensburg High School.
 

Meyer fondly remembers his favorite moments during his college days.
 

“I always enjoyed being able to go to the basketball games at Kentucky,” he said. “That’s an environment that is truly special to see and be a part of. Coach Cal made it fun and still continues to make it fun to be a Wildcat.”
 

Nevertheless, it is certainly fun to watch Meyer and other former UK baseballers move up the ranks. Only the sky’s the limit.
 

Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. He is a regular contributor to KyForward.com. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle. He can be reached via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.


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