Prospect season in review: Marlins’ Meyer
MiLB.com's Prospect Season in Review series spotlights players who shined brightest during the 2021 campaign. Here's a look at third-ranked Marlins prospect Max Meyer. For more player journeys on The Road to The Show, click here. There were few pitchers in the Minors that were as consistently dominant as Max
MiLB.com's Prospect Season in Review series spotlights players who shined brightest during the 2021 campaign. Here's a look at third-ranked Marlins prospect Max Meyer. For more player journeys on The Road to The Show, click here.
There were few pitchers in the Minors that were as consistently dominant as Max Meyer throughout the 2021 season.
Meyer’s 2.27 ERA was the fourth-lowest in the Minors among all hurlers to reach at least 100 innings. It’s especially impressive to see him cover that many innings this season, considering the circumstances under which his professional career began.
As the first pitcher off the board in the 2020 Draft, Meyer had the highest profile among a group that naturally came with added concerns about how they would handle a professional workload after an unprecedented and lengthy hiatus.
The Marlins didn’t push their third-ranked prospect too far, which was to be expected after the lost season. But by the end of the year, Meyer proved that he was built to last. He averaged just more than five innings per start, completed at least five frames in all but four of his 22 starts -- including nine in a row -- and his 111 innings surpassed his sophomore and pandemic-shortened junior season total at the University of Minnesota.
The Woodbury, Minnesota native matched Hall of Famer Paul Molitor as the highest Draft pick in Golden Gophers history after being selected No. 3 overall in 2020. Meyer made a name for himself at a school that isn’t exactly a perennial baseball powerhouse thanks to a plus fastball that can reach triple digits and a wipeout slider that could grade out as his best offering.
When the 22-year-old finally joined the Marlins organization in the instructional league, the club was pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of his fading changeup.
“Everybody knows about his plus-plus slider and the fastball, but the changeup you didn’t see much in college because he didn’t really need it,” Marlins director of Minor League operations Geoffrey DeGroot told MiLB.com last November. “He started using that and showing that here, and it’s got a chance to be a plus pitch as well.”
The 22-year-old earned an invite to big league Spring Training to open the 2021 season but did not pitch in a Grapefruit League game.
"We don't want Max coming over to a game and trying to throw 100," Marlins manager Don Mattingly told reporters in March. "We want him to get ready to pitch this season, continue his development, and we think there's a real risk with those young guys kind of trying to impress and doing too much too early. It's a danger in camp and that's something we're gonna stay away from."
That decision added to the anticipation for his professional debut, and before too long his starts quickly became appointment television every week for Double-A Pensacola.
The right-hander opened the season with a one-hitter over five innings against Mississippi and hit a speed bump in his next outing -- his worst of the year -- before rattling off a six-start stretch in which he allowed just one run over 29 innings, which began with a streak of 17 consecutive scoreless frames.
“All the rumors are true,” Blue Wahoos skipper Kevin Randel told MLB.com before the season opener. “This guy's pretty good. Big arm, excellent slider, controls the game really well. It's going to be fun to watch him pitch his first professional outing."
Meyer made his start every week for Pensacola with the exception of his July 11 appearance in the Futures Game at Coors Field in Denver. Meyer recorded just one out in that contest -- getting the game’s top prospect, Adley Rutschman, to fly out to left -- and issued a walk to No. 65 overall prospect Nick Pratto before being pulled after seven pitches.
He remained impressive after the Futures Game, posting a 3.26 ERA over his last nine Pensacola starts. The No. 30 overall prospect finished the regular season with the Blue Wahoos, going 6-3 with a 2.41 ERA and 113 strikeouts over 101 innings, and was promoted to Jacksonville for the Triple-A Final Stretch.
“Just having [Meyer] and Peyton [Burdick], who have done very well this entire year, get a little taste of Triple-A, get acclimated to what it looks like and where they'll most likely be next year, was important,” general manager Kim Ng said in September. “Their season's gone on longer, and it's a way to get them more reps and innings.”
Meyer was more than ready for the challenge at the Minors’ highest level.
He set a career-high with 10 strikeouts over five innings in his first Triple-A start against Memphis. Meyer yielded just two hits, including a homer, and retired 11 of the first 12 batters he faced.
Meyer was not quite as dominant in his final start of the year against Gwinnett, although all four runs scored against him were unearned, but he proved he more than belonged at the level.
There was a sense that Meyer could be a fast riser in the Minors coming out of the Draft. So far, that has been a very accurate assessment. He flourished after being given an aggressive assignment and could be pitching in the Majors next year.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.