Kentucky baseball's Meyer commands attention in what could be his final start at home

UK junior Alex Meyer ranks among the top college baseball prospects

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMay 13, 2011 

  • Georgia at Kentucky

    When: 6:30 p.m. Friday; 4:30 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. Sunday

    Friday's pitchers: Georgia, Wood (4-5); UK, Meyer (5-5)

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630; TV: FS-South (Friday, Saturday)

When Alex Meyer steps to the mound Friday night to face Georgia, he probably will be making his final career home appearance for the Kentucky Wildcats.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound right-hander is a junior, making him draft-eligible for the first time since graduating from high school.

Committed to play for UK, Meyer nevertheless had his name called in the 20th round of the 2008 draft. The Boston Red Sox took a shot, hoping to lure him with a reported offer of $2.2 million.

When next month's draft takes place, "I certainly can't imagine him getting out of the first round," UK Coach Gary Henderson said.

Meyer says there's always a chance he could return for his senior year. However, that may be posturing-for-negotiations talking.

Baseball America rated him in the pre-season as the 21st-best prospect in the NCAA and fifth-best in the Southeastern Conference.

After this weekend's series against Georgia, UK will close its home schedule Tuesday against Western Kentucky. Meyer's final start is scheduled Thursday at Florida.

Armed with a fastball that has touched 100 mph, a curve ball that may be the best in the SEC and a developing change-up, Meyer is riding the best four-game stretch in his career — 321⁄3 innings, eight earned runs, 32 strikeouts at Mississippi and LSU, and complete-game home victories over Arkansas and No. 1-ranked Vanderbilt.

"Just command of my pitches," Meyer said of his current groove. "I've been confident, being able to mix in anything at any time here lately. And I've had great defense played behind me."

Meyer, 21, came from Greensburg, Ind., as arguably UK's most highly recruited prospect ever. A high school All-American, Indiana Mr. Baseball and named Indiana Player of the Year by both Gatorade and Louisville Slugger, he was rated by Baseball America as the No. 5 high school prospect in the nation. As a senior, he was 8-0 with a 0.95 ERA and 108 strikeouts over 51 innings.

Thanks to his teammates, he said, he doesn't second- guess his decision to delay turning pro.

"It was the best decision I've made in my life," Meyer said. "I met some great people here, and I would have never met these guys. It's been a great experience for me. ... Absolutely, I made the right decision."

Meyer's respect for teammates flows both ways, Henderson said.

"He's been in an environment where people care about him," Henderson said. "He is an A-plus teammate and, I think if you're that type of person, you tend to get that in return."

With 239 strikeouts, Meyer recently passed Joe Blanton (231) for sixth on UK's career list. With 10 strikeouts in each of his last two starts, he would pass Scott Smith (242) and tie Brandon Webb for fourth on the UK list.

"One of the things that he has done consistently is work extremely hard," Henderson said. "He accepts responsibility. He's accountable for everything that happens. He's a very good listener. You put those things together over time and you tend to get better."

Yet, there have been growing pains along the route.

Meyer went 1-4 with a 5.73 ERA as a freshman. He struck out 80, but also walked 45.

As a sophomore, Meyer was out of the lineup for three weeks because of mononucleosis. He went 5-3 with a 7.06 ERA, 63 strikeouts and 36 walks.

This season, he is 5-5 with a 2.98 ERA, and an SEC-leading 96 strikeouts, with 39 walks.

Meyer recalls a 2010 game at Arkansas as one of the growing pains that ended up making him better.

"I go through the first inning as clean as can be," Meyer said. "Come out, don't get through the second inning. At that point, I'm wondering what's going on. Why am I not getting people out?

"I come back this year and I throw a complete game against them and get the win. It's just a maturity process. You've got to (go through) it no matter what part of life you're talking about. ... It's been a learning process for me and I think I'm starting to figure things out."

Meyer credits Henderson and his staff. He also says he learned by paying attention — both when in action and when on the bench.

His classwork reflects a similar attitude. He made the SEC freshman academic honor roll in 2009 and the SEC academic honor roll last year. He said he's ahead of a normal four-year schedule to graduate.

Meyer's personal highlight came in last week's 2-0 shutout win over Vandy, which earned him SEC and national pitcher of the week honors. He gave up five singles and a walk, striking out five.

"To beat the No. 1 team in the country, and I shut them out, that's a pretty special moment for me," Meyer said.

He said his highlights also include a pair of 2010 wins against LSU — 11-9 on Lance Ray's three-run walk-off homer in the opener, and 6-4 on Marcus Nidiffer's eighth-inning grand slam to complete a three-game sweep.

"They're just special moments that are going to be with me for the rest of my life," he said. As for this weekend, "there's the possibility that it could be the last time that I pitch on this diamond. But it's going to be ... a heavy weekend for everybody, knowing that it's Senior Day on Sunday and the last time those seniors, for sure, are going to play on this field. So just going in with the same mentality — we're going in and try to win a game on Friday night and I guess after that we'll try to figure it out."

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