The year is 2006. The Mariners are coming off what would come to be one of the worst drafts in team history. The front office is one year removed from selecting Jeff Clement, a catcher out of the University of Southern California with the third pick in the draft. The pick would end up sandwiched between six eventual all-stars over the course of the first seven selections. It was by all measures, a historic miss.
But this was a new year, and the Seattle Mariners held the fifth pick in this MLB Draft. General Manager Bill Bavasi and Scouting Director Bob Fontaine Jr. had another difficult decision to make. On one hand, there’s Brandon Morrow; a 21-year-old flame-throwing righty out of Cal Berkley. On the other, there’s the kid in their own backyard; a whippy-armed string bean out of the University of Washington named Timothy Lincecum. With Morrow, he’s built like they like ‘em. His 6-foot-3 frame and maturing body had prototypical big league starter written all over it. Lincecum on the other hand required a dip into Lake Washington, fully clad in his Huskies uniform to hit the 170-pound package as advertised. There was no precedent for this. Pedro Martinez existed, but Pedro Martinez was an outlier. Lincecum was small, packing a violent delivery. It required a lot of effort, and there were a lot of moving parts. Morrow stood tall, and delivered the ball in a more conventional manner. The decision was made. The rest is history.
Fast-forward 14 years and Seattle may have a similar dilemma on their hands. The sixth pick in the draft will hold plenty of talent and opportunity for General Manager Jerry Dipoto and Director of Amateur Scouting Scott Hunter. This front office is keen on taking college arms with their first round picks. In 2018, Stetson ace Logan Gilbert got the call. In 2019, Elon righthander George Kirby was the pick. Will 2020 be the year of Louisville southpaw Reid Detmers?
Not so fast.
University of Minnesota starting pitcher Max Meyer is 2020’s Tim Lincecum.
At 6-foot even, Meyer isn’t the most imposing figure on the bump. He’s got 10 pounds on Lincecum, but possesses the same slight frame as the pitcher before him. Much like Lincecum, Meyer’s arsenal includes a dominant two-pitch mix. The fastball is a legitimate 80-grade offering, riding into the zone in the upper 90s. While the fastball is great, Meyer’s slider may be the true gem. A 70-grade breaking ball that touches 93 mph. Some scouts think it’s the best breaking ball in the class. One scout in an interview with Baseball America said it’s the best slider he’s ever seen out of an amateur. Meyer has legitimate ace potential. The aforementioned Detmers on the other hand is more likely a complementary piece – a mid-rotation guy — a no. 2 ceiling.
There’s presumed safety in Detmers. He’s a lefty with a clean delivery, topping out at 93 mph. Meyer has a more combustible move to the plate. It's a fluid, repeatable delivery featuring a quick, electric arm. He’s not as whippy as Lincecum, but generates a ton of power from a high 3/4 slot. He can get a little long in the back, wrapping the ball behind him at times, occasionally leading to some inefficiencies in the arm path. Couple all this with the immense arm speed he generates, good balance, as well as his elite extension to the plate and you’ve got a profile not too dissimilar to Lincecum.
But Lincecum is an outlier himself. The extension he got to home plate, as well as the arsenal he possessed, made him unlike any pitcher we had seen or seen since. For the record, a better comparison is probably Sonny Gray, albeit with a little more gas in the shoulder.
Like Lincecum and Gray before him, there are fears Meyer may end up in a bullpen as his body tries to hold up to the rigors of 180 innings or more each year. Last week, Jim Callis joined us on the ‘They Might Be Mariners’ podcast to discuss Meyer. He said while the bullpen potential is very real, it’s not like he’s going to be just another guy out of the ‘pen.
“When you talk about reliever risk, first off, I think he’s athletic enough to start,” Callis said. “It’s like closer risk. If he’s not a starter, it’s not like ‘oh, well we have to put him in in the seventh inning’. No, if Max Meyer’s not a starter, he’s going to close games for you.”
This is an important distinction. Baseball is changing, and firemen relievers have become more and more valuable. Teams need guys that can come in and snuff out big moments. At worst, Meyer could be that guy.
It’s not just projection either. Meyer has dominated the opposition over his three seasons in Minneapolis. Over 148 innings, the diminutive strawberry blonde posted a 2.11 ERA and 0.939 WHIP. He’s gotten better each year on campus. The 15.0 K/9 in 2020 easily represented a career-best.
The question for Seattle boils down to whether or not they believe in the arm. Is the action clean enough where the team is comfortable projecting his health long-term? Meyer doesn’t have nearly the workload Lincecum had at the University of Washington, so that won’t be playing against him either.
The team may have missed on Lincecum in 2006, but Daniel Powter’s ‘Bad Day’ was the no. 1 song on the charts and Crash was the biggest movie in America. What else would you expect?
2020 is a new year and the world is in a much bett…. *cough*… Um… Seattle is in an opportune position to drastically improve the top-end of their already burgeoning farm system. Meyer would be a big piece in heading those efforts.