Baseball Preview: Meyer ready to take next step

Part 1: Sidearm Kennedy looks to anchor pen
Part 2: Kapteyn is a Kaptializer
Part 3: Steady Wright looks for big 2011

Leading up to the 2011 season opener on Friday, Feb. 18 at No. 20 College of Charleston, UKathletics.com is rolling out eight individual player feature stories. Today's feature is on UK junior Alex Meyer.

As one of the top high school prospects in the nation, Alex Meyer was a highly coveted recruit.

Owning a projectable 6-foot-7, 180-pound frame as a senior at Greensburg High School in Greensburg, Ind., Meyer was recruited by the biggest names in college baseball.

He chose Kentucky.

When Meyer committed to Kentucky, it was viewed as a major recruiting coup in college baseball. The flame-throwing right-handed pitcher had selected the Wildcats for his collegiate career, but that was just the start, as UK’s coaching staff had to sweat it out over the summer, wondering where Meyer would be selected in the draft and if they would ever see their prize recruit on campus.

Meyer and his family made it known to professional scouts that he was dead-set on attending Kentucky for his collegiate career. The large-budget Boston Red Sox took a flyer on Meyer anyway in the 20th round, chancing that if they made a large enough offer, they could sign Meyer away from his Kentucky commitment.

On the MLB Draft signing deadline day, the Meyer family was visited by famed Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. Epstein, along with high-ranking members of the Red Sox front-office staff, showed up with Greensburg on a private plane with multiple seven-figure contract offers with hours to spare before the 12 a.m. ET deadline.

A little bit after midnight, UK’s coaching staff received word: Meyer would be coming to Lexington for his collegiate baseball career.

“Well, getting a guy that has got first-round talent and someone that can beat anyone in the country is good for your program,” UK assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Brad Bohannon said. “There is such a small pool of pitchers that you can run out on Friday nights in the SEC. The thing about Alex is that he was really the first high-profile recruit that we got here. He really could have gone to school anywhere in the country but for us to get him after winning the SEC in 2006 made a statement that Kentucky is a real program that is going to compete on the national scene for years to come.”

Through his first two years at Kentucky, Meyer flashed tremendous talent, showcasing why he is considered a consensus first-round pick and a possible candidate for the No. 1 overall selection in the 2011 MLB Draft.

“He's right on top of you when he's throwing the ball and I've seen him up to 98 with a hard breaking ball in the upper 80s," a National League area scout said in a story by Baseball America’s Conor Glassey. "He's got swing-and-miss pitches, he just doesn't always know where the ball is going. You go in there and you see him for the right inning and he's better than anyone you're going to see this year. But you go in there and see him for the wrong inning and you're not sure what to make of him. The physical tools are unbelievable, but the consistency just hasn't been there."

While he has shown glimpse of his undeniable talent, Meyer’s numbers haven’t put him in the decision as the top pitcher in the nation. Between bouts of command issues early in his career and after missing three weeks with mononucleosis, Meyer owns a 6-7 record in 25 career games, sporting a 6.34 ERA. However, his strikeout numbers have never dipped, as he has fanned 143 in 110.2 innings, ranking sixth in the NCAA as a true freshman with 12.06 strikeouts per nine innings.

Now, entering his junior season, Meyer is poised for a breakout season in his first draft-eligible season since his high school year.

“Alex Meyer has had a lot of improvements in the fall,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “Some of the obvious things that you notice is that his body is much stronger. He has added strength and that has allowed him to control his body on the mound much more consistently. He is able to repeat his delivery. He commands the strike zone much, much better then he has at any point in time. The added strength has allowed him to command his slider at a much higher rate. He can now throw a changeup for a strike. His skill, in terms of creating the pitch, is noticeably better. He has demonstrated much better poise when dealing with runners on base, or giving up base hits or runs. He had a really strong fall for us, we are very encouraged by his progress and we look forward to him being a key member of our staff this spring.”

Meyer, who now stands at 6-foot-9, 220-pounds, is in position to lead the pitching staff which returns all three weekend starters, including right-hander Jordan Cooper and sophomore southpaw Taylor Rogers. Combined with relief stalwarts Mike Kaczmarek and Nick Kennedy, and the addition of talented southpaw newcomer Corey Littrell, UK’s pitching staff appears to be one of the more talented in the country.