2020 MLB Draft: Max Meyer’s pitching coach explains why the Minnesota righty is a ‘unicorn’

Major League Baseball is scheduled to launch its 2020 draft on June 10. This year’s edition will look different than years past. The spread of the novel coronavirus means the event will be held remotely. The owners’ desire to slash costs, meanwhile, means the draft will last just five rounds instead of 40.

Here at CBS Sports, we recently kicked off this year’s draft coverage recently by ranking the top 25 position players, the top 25 pitchers, and the top 50 overall prospects in this year’s class. We’ve also covered the most polarizing prospects in the class, and explained why someone from this year’s class might make their professional debut in the Show this year.

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be running Q&As with the pitching or hitting coach for each of the top five players in this year’s class, according to our evaluation. That begins today with University of Minnesota pitching coach Ty McDevitt, who had the pleasure of managing right-hander Max Meyer. 

McDevitt explained why he refers to Meyer as a ‘unicorn;’ how Meyer improved his fastball; and why he thinks the concerns about Meyer’s size are overblown. 

Before we get to the Q&A, here’s what we wrote about Meyer when we ranked him as the fifth-best prospect in the draft:

Call Meyer the Murder Hornet because he’s small but fierce. He’s about Sonny Gray-sized, yet he has well-above-average arm strength that lets him touch the upper-90s, and a wipeout slider that is one of the best secondary pitches in the draft. If asked, he could probably pitch out of a big-league bullpen this season. Obviously the long-term hope for Meyer is that he’s a frontline starter. He can’t do anything about his height, so he’ll need to improve his changeup and perhaps tweak his delivery so he doesn’t land quite as open. Given his athleticism and pair of top-end pitches, he has a better chance than most at defying the stigma against short righties.

Now, onto McDevitt’s answers.

(Note: the interview has been edited for clarity and length purposes.)

What kind of human being is Max Meyer?

I think Max is a great human. He’s one of the most competitive dudes that I’ve ever met. He really enjoys competing and winning, and being successful in whatever he does. Everything — his personality, the way he carries himself — everything sort of revolves around competition. He’s outrageously well-liked by his teammates, by his coaches, by people around him. He’s always gotten along with people real well.

How has he grown since you first met him?

One of the biggest improvements I saw Max make throughout the course of his career is just the leadership role he took on our team. He’s never been a real loud or outspoken leader, but he’s grown to become more aware of how his actions are perceived by the people around him, and how they influence other people’s actions as well. He’s really developed like that more than just physically — he’s always been on that upward trajectory physically. 

What’s your scouting report on him?

I tell a lot of guys, he’s a unicorn. He can do anything you want him to. What his repertoire is right now is, in my mind, just a skeleton of what it’s going to be in a few years. 

You’ve got the fastball. Early in his career, he tended to cut the fastball to his glove side. Especially this year, he’s getting a lot more rise, a lot more carry on it. That’s obviously helped him get behind the baseball and pick up some more miles per hour. He’ll throw his fastball at 96 to 98. He’ll hold that velo for essentially the entire game. 

He throws a slider that’s 88 to 91. He’s got a little more of a humpy slider that he’ll throw early in counts for strikes, and then he’s got a little more of a hard finisher that he’ll start on the plate and break off, either off the plate to a righty or back-foot to a lefty. 

And then the pitch he’s had to work hard to develop: the changeup. For me, the changeup was a pitch that will play better at the next level for him. At times in college, he’d throw a really good changeup, but a guy would be late to the fastball and would be able to hit the changeup and get their barrel out in front. 

Just having three different pitches that work at three different, distinct speed levels and three level planes of break makes it real hard on hitters. He’s learned late in his career how to get in on guys, and how to go up on guys. It makes him a really, really tough guy to get to. 

How did he improve his fastball — was it about the grip, staying behind the ball better, or some other technical aspect?

I think it’s all of the above.

Max is one of the rare guys that I have worked with who I don’t necessarily have to explain to him how to do things, I just tell him what I want him to do and he’s so good at self-manipulating and being able to produce results. So many times you get guys who you start with what you want it to feel like, or what you want it to look like. Max is the exact opposite. He just says, ‘hey, tell me what you want me to do, and give me a couple of chances and I’ll find a way to make it work.’ The end result is always pretty good, and he has such an innate feel for how to spin the baseball and how to move the baseball. I think some of it is that; his feel and just having those conversations with him.

Then another part of it is he’s developed some strength over the course of the last three years. He’s put a lot of weight on his lower half, and he’s able to stay more grounded. He doesn’t jump off his back side so much, and get across his body or fly open like he would have a tendency to. So, just the consistency in his lower half and being able to complete that stride length in a similar fashion. I think a lot of that has had an impact on his release, especially when it’s trying to get to that glove side. Rather than having to fly open and tug it there, he can really stay on plane and on line and be able to rotate through his target instead of having to pull off and cut the baseball over there.

What did you work with him the most over the last six months?

The biggest thing we worked on was just understanding how to attack hitters. He’s a guy you coach differently than a lot of guys. It’s like playing a video game. You can tell him how you want things to look, and where you want them to break, and how you want them to start. We’d get in a lot more depth when it comes to pitch tunneling and pitch sequencing. ‘OK, so I missed a fastball to my arm side; what’s a good pitch to throw off that? Where do I want to throw a slider off that?’ Just things of that nature. He’s got such a good feel for what he’s doing on the mound that we don’t have a lot of those conversations that much anymore. 

What’s his pre-start preparation like? Is he into analytics and video, or is he more of a feel pitcher?

He’s absolutely a feel guy. If I call him in and say, ‘hey Max, I got something for you, take a look at this.’ He’s really, really receptive to that kind of stuff. He enjoys seeing that, and I do think he finds it helpful. But he’s not a guy who’s going to go seek that out. He really trusts his feel and his senses, and he really trusts his instincts on the mound. At the end of the day, he’s going to lean on those things. As a coach, if you have something that can help him, he’ll certainly listen to it, but that’s not the first place he’s going to go.

Are you concerned his size (6-foot, 185 pounds) will prevent him from starting?

I certainly thought he had a good opportunity to be a starter last year, but this year pushed me over the edge in terms of his capability. He’s just so adaptable. He’s shown that he’s outrageously durable and he really doesn’t have any kind of arm tiredness, soreness … if anything, I have to pull him back every now and then on his bullpen days because he always feels so fresh. 

At the end of the day, I think it’s crazy to think his size is a deterrent from him being a starter. You look across Major League Baseball right now, and yeah, there might not be as many, but there certainly are a lot of [pitchers who] you can look at who would be respectable comps. 

One of the things that I mentioned when I talk to some of the guys in the pro-ball world, is he’s been able to keep himself real healthy and real balanced because he’s been a hitter for so long. He takes as many or more swings rotating violently as a left-handed hitter as he does throws as a right-handed pitcher. He’s been able to maintain a level of symmetry that you just don’t see with any high-level pitchers, especially guys his size. 

I think that’s a huge asset for him in terms of his overall, long-term durability.

He’s even been known to hit a home run now and then.

He’s got a knack for winning, man. He’s one of those guys that everybody rolls their eyes at because he’s good at everything. He runs the table in the locker room at ping pong; good hockey player; and he just finds a way to get the job done. He loves the moment. He loves going out there. He loves competing. And he’s certainly somebody you want to have on your team.

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