When they acquired him in exchange for Denard Span last winter, the Twins envisioned Alex Meyer as a power arm with front-end upside that could be plugged into the big-league rotation within a year or two.
Unfortunately, although he has pitched well enough while on the field, his first season as part of the organization hasn't clarified a whole lot regarding his future. Meyer missed a full two months due to shoulder soreness and just recently began easing back with short stints in the Gulf Coast League to rebuild arm strength.
On the plus side, the right-hander has demonstrated the ability to dominate this season. His 10.8 K/9 rate ranks second in the Eastern League among starters with 50-plus innings, and before being sidelined by injury he was holding opponents there to a .225 average with only three homers in 61 frames. Then again, some of his other numbers -- like a 3.69 ERA and 1.31 WHIP -- were less sensational.
And the missed time really muddles his situation. Had he stayed healthy, Meyer may have been positioned for a late-season promotion to Triple-A, where he could have proven himself prepared to compete for a spot in the Twins rotation next spring. Instead, he might be able to make two or three starts in the Eastern League before year's end, but he'll finish the season with well under 100 innings and no sustained pattern of outstanding results.
Their porous rotation filled with low-velocity contact pitchers, the Twins are badly in need of an arm like Meyer's, and as soon as possible. But how quickly can they realistically bring him into the fold?
The Aggressive Route
A September call-up is probably out of the question given his situation, but Meyer needs innings. By pitching in the Arizona Fall League, he could continue to build strength, then compete for a rotation spot in spring training next year if he's deemed ready.
The Twins have proven far less willing to promote pitchers directly to the majors from Double-A than position players, but Meyer has a huge arm and many scouts have expressed that his stuff could play in the majors right now. Next spring he'll be 24 years old, an age where many high-end college-seasoned pitching prospects have already debuted in the big leagues. And, as mentioned above, the Twins really need him to make an impact next year if they're going to get things turned around. The sooner the better.
The Conservative Route
A decent argument could be made that Meyer ought to start back in Double-A next season. He'll probably end the year with around 75 innings thrown in the Eastern League, and despite his big strikeout totals his overall performance there has not been flat-out dominant the point where a promotion is a no-brainer. His control needs work and -- to borrow one of this organization's pet terms -- he needs to build more consistency from outing to outing.
To play things safe, the Twins could let Meyer wrap up his 2013 season with a few more outings, then rest up during the offseason and report back to New Britain at the start of next year. If his performance dictates, he can work his way up to Rochester early in the season and vie for a promotion to the majors in the second half. (This approach conveniently might help him bypass the Super 2 deadline.)
The Likely Route
I doubt the Twins will throw their most prized pitching prospect into the major-league fray until he has thoroughly proven through his production in the minors that he is completely ready. Having him repeat Double-A next year seems like overkill -- he will be 24 and his peripheral numbers suggest that he's more than ready for the next level -- but opening the 2014 season in Rochester seems realistic and reasonable. This would provide Meyer with a chance to earn a call-up in the early months of the season, so that he could still potentially make a significant impact for the club.
The scary thing here, really, is that achy right shoulder, which will require constant monitoring. The Twins can insist all they want that his injury was minor, but players simply do not miss a full third of the season because of minor injuries. It's nice to see Meyer back on the mound, and throwing well, but it will be difficult to have full confidence in his health going forward until he puts together an extended stretch of quality, durable performance. And until we see that, he probably won't be in the conversation for a shot at the majors.