“I was kind of in awe, just looking at the stands and all the people,” Meyer said. “It was cool. It was humbling.”
Meyer waited until the eighth inning to take his turn. In six pitches and two quick outs, Meyer showed a sellout crowd, a national television audience and a field full of the best prospects why he is considered the Nationals’ top pitching prospect.
His 6-foot-9 frame towered over everyone, three inches higher than the next-tallest pitcher at the game. He threw four fastballs; three hit 98 mph and the fourth zipped in at 99. He threw one work-in-progress change-up. He threw one slider, which curled into the dirt and induced the final swing and miss during a strikeout.
“I showed all three pitches,” Meyer said. “I showed them what I got.”
Meyer spoke with an earnest, aw-shucks smile for the duration of a postgame interview, as if he could still not get over the experience. His parents, girlfriend and extended family all traveled to watch in person, 14 people in all. When he came out of the game — which the USA won over the World, 17-5 — Meyer handed the ball to George Brett, the USA manager. “Good job, and go get in the dugout,” Brett told him.
“I can’t speak about how cool it was,” Meyer said.
The Nationals drafted Meyer, 22, out of Kentucky with the 23rd overall pick in 2011 and signed him with a $2 million bonus. At Class A Hagerstown, he has 98 strikeouts in 84 innings — 10.5 per nine — with 34 walks and a 3.32 ERA.
Meyer’s raw stuff may be too overpowering for his current level. Few hitters in the Class low-A South Atlantic League can catch up to his fastball, which without the adrenaline of Sunday’s event typically sits between 92 and 98. It would be easy for him to throw his wipeout slider out of the zone and let young, undisciplined batters chase it. The Nationals have instructed him to not take the easy strikeouts, and instead to focus on command, spotting his fastball on the corners of the strike zone and throwing his slider for strikes.
“He’s very cerebral,” Nationals director player development Doug Harris said. “He understands the importance of that.”
Said Meyer: “When I was in high school and the early parts of college, I thought I could go out there and just throw it by guys, and they would be scared and get out of the way. But you learn, especially in the minor leagues, it doesn’t matter how hard you’re throwing. They’re not getting out of the way. They’re going to dig in and take their cuts on you.”