*Name: Max Mayer*
*School: University of Minnesota*
*Fangraphs THE BOARD: 5*
*MLB Pipeline Top 200: 9*
*Baseball America Top 500: 10*
*Keith Law's Big Board (The Athletic): 4*
Max Meyer was a multi-sport athlete in high school, playing baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter in his home town of Woodbury, Minnesota, but lacked the physicality to make him a high end prospect in either sport. He was taken by his hometown Twins in the 34th round of the 2017 draft but decided to honor his commitment to the University of Minnesota. He began his career as a Golden Gopher in the bullpen, quickly cementing himself as the closer and setting a program record with 16 saves as a freshman. He recorded 7 more for the collegiate national team that summer. During his sophomore season, the team was desperate for pitching and decided to move him to the rotation a few games into the season. He responded with a 2.11 ERA across 76.2 innings, good for second best in the Big 10, with 87 strikeouts and only 20 walks, while playing the outfield on his off days and recording a respectable .256 average. He followed that up by leading Team USA with a 0.69 ERA in his second stint with the program. This season, he dominated power conference teams in all four of his starts before the shutdown, striking out 46 of 110 batters he faced while walking only 8 and posting a 1.95 ERA. His season peaked with a complete game demolition of North Carolina in which he struck out 14 while walking 1 and allowing just 5 hits.
Meyer is undersized for a starting pitcher at 6’0” and 185 pounds. Scouts report that in the past his stuff and command have tended to fade late in starts. There are some questions about how well he’ll handle a starter’s workload when he has to take the mound every fifth day instead of every seventh. Some also question his command and how well his third pitch, a changeup rarely used in college, will develop. Those concerns raise the possibility that Meyer ends up in the bullpen eventually. He’s an elite athlete, though, voted as the best college athlete in the draft by scouting directors polled by Baseball America, and early returns this year suggested he was taking to the full-time starting role well, so a future as a reliever isn't a foregone conclusion by any means.
Why is an undersized pitcher with a limited repertoire and a short track record as an actual starter in the mix at number 5 overall? Because his stuff is loud. Meyers’ fastball sits 94-98 with good late life, and this season he was maxing out at 101 early in starts and touched 98 more than 100 pitches into his UNC outing. His slider comes in between 87 and 92 with hard two plane break, and he can vary the shape and location to either get called strikes in the zone or flailing chases out of it. It's a weapon he's equally comfortable deploying against lefties and righties, dropping it in on the back foot of the former and letting it drop down and away from the latter. Both his fastball and breaking ball are arguably the best pitch in their category in this draft, and they’re certainly two of the six or seven best pitches of any kind available this year. The previously mentioned changeup is in the mid 80s with moderate arm side movement and drop. He hasn’t thrown it much (college hitters are often so late on his fastball that they might run into the changeup by accident), and scouting opinions on its future grade varying from below to above average.
Meyer’s delivery features a high leg kick and a deep drop and drive motion. He strides a long way down the mound and a little towards the first base line, getting good extension for his size, and releases the ball from a low-ish three quarters slot. It’s a fast motion, but fluid and repeated consistently. His eventual command grade is a matter of some debate. He’s never walked many in college (just under 7% for his career), but that could mostly be a product of not needing to try to paint the corners to beat overwhelmed NCAA level hitters. Fangraphs gives him a future 45 grade for command on the 20-80 scouting scale, which is borderline for a starter, while MLB pipeline gives him an above average 55. Baseball America and Keith Law don’t give him numerical grades, but both note that his excellent athleticism, clean delivery, and history of throwing quality strikes augur well. You can see a collection of highlights from his sophomore season, as well as his time with Team USA last summer, here. That video also features him hitting a walk-off home run against North Dakota State.
The cases for and against Meyer are pretty straightforward. His size, relatively short track record, and underdeveloped third pitch make him risky by the standards of high-end college pitchers, while his athleticism and stuff give him tantalizing upside. Meyers is most valuable to a team that buys into him being a long-term starter, but his arsenal should translate well to non-traditional roles if that doesn’t work. He could be a dominant force as a Lance McCullers style 4-5 inning starter, possibly following an opener, or as a multi-inning relief ace in the mold of Josh Hader. A team that was willing to use him creatively could potentially still get #3/4 starter value out of him even if he can’t reach his #1/2 starter ceiling.
Meyer was being mocked in the middle of the first round back in April, but as the spring has gone on he’s been increasingly connected to teams in the top 10, and especially to the Jays. Alec Manoah and Nate Pearson, the Jays’ last two first round pitching selections, are physically quite different from Meyers (i.e. they are large men), but profile similarly in terms of having two elite pitches, short track records, and unanswered questions about their command and changeups. We know that this front office is willing to make big bets on top shelf stuff, even when other questions persist. The early returns from those selections have been about as good as they could possibly be, and the Jays might decide to go to that well one more time. On the At the Letters Podscast, Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline reported that if the Jays opt for a pitcher and Asa Lacy is off the board as expected, Meyer is their most likely choice.