Multiple outlets have now reported that the Astros intend to promote Triple-A center fielder Jake Meyers in the wake of Friday afternoon’s Myles Straw trade. GM James Click was quoted as saying that Chas McCormick will likely take the bulk of the center field work in the short term, which would suggest that Meyers’ role will look something like the one McCormick has filled since his call-up. A late bloomer, Meyers entered the year on the fringes of the prospecting radar but has pushed himself into the Astros organizational Top 10 by posting breakout numbers across the board.
A compact athlete at 6’0”, 200 lbs., Meyers has a very diverse skillset on the diamond, which was best illustrated by his time at Nebraska. After pitching out of the bullpen and on a part time basis as a position player during his freshman year, he was the Cornhuskers starting center fielder and a member of their starting rotation as a sophomore and junior. He was very effective in both roles, pitching to a career 2.61 ERA and .307/.419/.398 slash line, but was generally preferred as an outfielder because of his strong defensive profile and on-base skills.
The Astros pushed Meyers aggressively after signing him as a 13th round pick in the 2017 draft, sending him straight to the now defunct New York-Penn League straight out of college for a 42 game trial. He was the primary center fielder for his club and played well there, showing a combination of speed and some arm strength, but wasn’t as successful with the bat with a .207/.289/.304 slash. His K rate was a reasonable 19.7%, but the quality of his contact was very poor (49% GB, 20.6% IFFB) which hamstrung his overall production. It wasn’t a blazing start, but Meyers’ two-way background gave reason for patience, and he was given a starting center field gig in full-season ball to start 2018.
Meyers ran with his assignment to the Midwest League, striking out in just 16.7% of his plate appearances while improving his batted ball profile significantly, and a .302/.383/.476 slash line in 61 games followed. That was enough to earn him a promotion to the High-A Carolina league, where he was able to hold his own with robust strikeout and walk rates, but again struggled to impact the baseball— he posted the lowest groundball rate of his career to that point at 40.6%, but his infield fly rate shot back up and he hit very few line drives, resulting in a lot of easy outs. His final slash line in his High-A debut was .250/.341/.362, and he’d be assigned back there to open the following season.
His return to the Carolina League would go a bit better, but the improvement was somewhat modest. Gradual adjustments to his swing and approach resulted in more changes to his contact profile- most importantly, a return of more line drives, which allowed him to boost his ISO from .112 to .170 with little changes to the rest of his line. This, combined with his continued strong play in center, was enough for the Astros to give him his first taste of Double-A later that season. The jump didn’t go especially well, but it’s common to struggle with the move to the high minors, and his K/BB rates of 20% and 11% respectively indicated that he wasn’t overmatched.
The lost 2020 season seemingly interrupted Meyers development, but he impressed the Astros enough in camp to earn an assignment to Triple-A to open 2021 and has looked like a new player since the jump. As of today, his season slash for Triple-A Sugar Land sits at .343/.408/.598 with 16 home runs and 10 steals in 13 attempts, career highs in each category. Triple-A is known as being friendly for offense and power in particular, but MiLB park factors recently published by Baseball America indicate that Sugar Land actually “suppresses” power relative to other Triple-A parks, so it’d be silly to attribute much of Meyers’ ascent to his new digs. He’s already almost doubled his career home run total this season, and he has done so without any drop-off in his contact rate. Meyers does a lot of data-driven training, which seems to have helped him gradually overhaul his swing and approach for more juice to the point where evaluators now have his power pegged as solid average.
While it sounds as though Meyers will begin his career in a part time role, he has the talent to potentially push for full time duties in time if the power continues to play. His arm is more average than standout, but it’s playable in centerfield, where it’s bolstered by his above-average speed and good actions, and I think he meets the big league defensive bar at the position. We’ve only seen a taste of the fully realized version of Meyers at the plate, but he has simply refused to slow down this year, and that emergence likely played a role in the Astros’ willingness to move on from Straw at the deadline. The loss of a fan favorite like Straw will always sting, but at 25 years old and raking in Triple-A, it was time for Meyers to get a chance, and he has the potential to make it look like a smart move in time.