Before I get started, let me go ahead and make the mostly-unnecessary introduction: As Evan kindly mentioned a few days ago, I'll be contributing the occasional article to The Crawfish Boxes. I'm happy to be here and hope I can supply something of interest to the blog. Most of you already know me from my FanPosts and comments, so I'll leave it at that.
With that out of the way, let's talk about one of our prospect breakout candidates, Jonathan Meyer, the starting third baseman for your Class A Lexington Legends. Batting .330/.375/.420, Meyer has put together a nice start to his 2010 season at a position where the team has little organizational depth. Not standout numbers, but certainly a solid performance from a 19-year old starting his first full professional season.
But what can we really expect from Meyer?
Although this is Meyer's first full season, he did play a half-season of rookie ball last year, finishing with the uninspiring batting line of .190/.301/.299. So where is the improvement coming from? First and foremost, Meyer is striking out much less; his strikeout rate is down to 19 percent after striking out in 31 percent of his plate appearances last season. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is way up, too; it was fairly low last season, at .258, and seemed like a safe bet to increase, though it's very doubtful that he will continue to bat .330 over the rest of this season, as his .420 BABIP this year is unsustainable.
One thing we haven't seen so far from Meyer is power. At a position which traditionally demands the ability to drive the ball, his .333 career slugging percentage is worrying. At 19, however, Meyer has plenty of time to grow into his tools, as we saw happen withlast year.
One other item of note is Meyer's walk rate. His BB rate was excellent last year; he walked in just under 14 percent of his plate appearances—particularly unusual when you consider that he was essentially a singles hitter in rookie ball. His walk rate is down this season, however, as he's only walked 5 times in 96 plate appearances, for a 5.2 percent walk rate. Walk rates do not stabilize until 200 plate appearances, so it would not be unreasonable to expect that number to go up. If he could get back to an above-average walk rate while batting around .280-.300, his on-base percentage would be very high, especially considering his age and experience. With that kind of patience, he would not need to be a prototypical slugging third baseman to provide good offensive value.
Scouting reports and other information
As with many sleeper prospects, scouting reports for Meyer tend to date back to the year of his draft. Fortunately, that still gives us a pretty good picture of how scouts see him, since he was drafted last year.
Meyer was a shortstop in high school, among other things (he also spent time at catcher and on the mound). In the MLB.com scouting report from the 2009 draft, we see that he was never expected to stick at shortstop:
[His range is] just average, but he's got good instincts on the infield. Good first step allows him to get to balls on both sides. That said, he's likely a third baseman as an infielder.
With a strong arm (he's touched 93 MPH off the mound), soft hands, and good instincts, Meyer profiles as a plus defensive third baseman, which—along with his potential plus on-base skills—may be the key to his value at third base.
In the above report, we also see that Meyer was learning to switch hit the year he was drafted. According to Baseball-Reference, he still switch hits, despite a report at draft time in which one scout stated he thought Meyer should go back to batting exclusively from the right-hand side.
[Dave Perkin, a professional scout] believes Meyer, who's listed at 6-foot-1, is more suited for third base, catcher or even pitcher. The scout also said Meyer may need to drop his switch-hitting approach and bat exclusively from the right side, his natural batting stance.
"I'd written about him earlier in the year that when he takes batting practice he reaches the warning track lefthanded and the parking lot right-handed," Perkin said.
To duck back to the statistical side of things momentarily, we actually saw a reverse split in his 2009 rookie season, which is welcome news. According to MinorLeagueSplits, Meyer batted for .409 OPS against left-handers and .652 OPS against righties. However, we've started to see his reported right-hand dominance take effect this season, as his splits at Lexington heavily favor left-handed pitchers. Still, it's hard to read anything from a 16 at-bat sample size against lefties, and his overall career numbers show that he's been better batting as a LHB.
Scouts do seem to think that Meyer has a chance for more power than he's shown so far; one scouting report has his power ceiling as a notch below average, while the MLB.com scouting report mentioned above says he has quick wrists and suggests that more strength would help him drive the ball better.
The future: ETA and ceiling?
Being a 19-year old in low A ball, Meyer is still years away from the major leagues, and much of his stock as a prospect is still based on potential, not results. Still, it's hard not to be happy with his start to this season. How much of it is sustainable is the question, as is his ability to hit for power and bring his walk rate back to career levels.
Major League player comparisons are difficult when you're talking about a player Meyer's age who is so far from his ceiling. "with less speed and more slugging" is the best I can come up with at this point, but remember that's just a rough ceiling, and many prospects never reach their projected ceilings... or reach the big leagues at all.