Prospect Dan Meyer Ready To Take The Big Step

It was widely reported that A's General Manager Billy Beane insisted on one player in particular from the Atlanta Braves when he traded Tim Hudson - left-handed pitching prospect Dan Meyer. OaklandClubhouse.com's Todd Morgan caught up with the promising lefty to find out his thoughts on being traded, the possibility of pitching in the big leagues, his philosophy on pitching and more...

In talking to Dan Meyer, one of the pitchers recently acquired by the Oakland A's for starting pitcher Tim Hudson, it is difficult not to get caught up in the enthusiasm of a career that is poised to take its biggest step. He is friendly and well-spoken, with an obvious love for what he does and where he is. And that is what struck me more than anything – Danny Meyer (as he introduced himself to me) knows exactly where he is, and he's very focused on appreciating everything he is experiencing as a professional baseball player. I asked for his initial reaction upon hearing he had been traded.

"I'm really excited," he said. "I'm going to miss the Braves organization. They were great to me. Always straightforward with me and very respectful. I'll miss the camaraderie with a lot of the guys, but it was time to move on. The A's are a great team with a long line of great pitchers. Their pitching has been unbelievable. I'm looking forward to getting out there and getting at it, working my butt off and winning games. That's the bottom line is to give the team a chance to win."

To be traded is one thing, but to be traded for a player who had become a fixture in Oakland, both on the field and in the community, adds a certain measure of pressure – another issue of which Meyer is very aware. "It's going to be tough, I mean, he's an all-star. I'm not going in there to fill anyone's shoes."

Meyer was a first-round draft pick (37th overall) by the Atlanta Braves in the 2002 draft. It was telling that the Braves took Meyer so early in the draft, because up until then Atlanta had not drafted a college pitcher in the first round since it drafted Derek Lilliquist sixth overall in 1987. Meyer was suitably flattered.

"I did not expect to be taken that high. I thought I'd go somewhere in the second round, and I was surprised that the Braves took me, especially considering that I was a college pitcher. That really showed me something."

The 6'3, 200 lb. left-hander progressed quickly through the Braves system, with stops at Danville of the Appalachian League in 2002, then Class-A Rome of the South Atlantic League and Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League in 2003. He began 2004 at Double-A Greenville, where he went 6-3 in 13 starts with a 2.22 ERA and an ungodly 86/12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 65 innings. He was promoted to Triple-A in late June and made his debut in Richmond on June 30th. Though he lost to the Louisville Bats in his first start, Meyer found success in Richmond, compiling a 3-3 record with a 2.79 and 60/25 K/BB ratio in 61 and 1/3 innings.

His performance earned him a call-up to Atlanta on September 14, 2004. "That day was crazy," Meyer said. "We were still in the International League playoffs and I was just three hours from a flight to Buffalo, New York. Then I got a call at 2 AM and I all of a sudden I had to be in New York for a game with the Mets. I was a little tired but forgot about it all when it came time to pitch." Meyer got into one other game with the Braves, finishing his first taste of the Big Leagues with two strikeouts, a walk and two hits allowed in two innings pitched.

Then Billy Beane came calling.

Beane, the GM responsible for Oakland's four-year playoff run from 2000 to 2003, has made a name for himself through a long string of shrewd player acquisitions. He has a history of targeting certain players and doing whatever it takes to bring them to Oakland, from outfielder Johnny Damon in 2001 to his "holy grail" Erubiel Durazo in 2003 to centerfielder Mark Kotsay in 2004. Beane's pursuit of amateur outfielder Nick Swisher prior to the 2002 draft was documented by Michael Lewis in his bestselling book Moneyball.

Heading into the off-season after 2004, one of the critical questions facing Beane and his staff was whether or not they could afford to keep Tim Hudson. Hudson is scheduled to hit the free agent market after the 2005 season and, like Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Miguel Tejada before him, he would likely have been too expensive for the A's to keep. As the fervor surrounding the Tim Hudson trade rumors built this off-season, it became evident that Beane was asking for a premium pitching prospect as part of the deal. One rumored trade had the Los Angeles Dodgers offering right-hander Edwin Jackson, who was rated as the number five prospect in the entire sport by Baseball America Magazine prior to the 2004 season. Beane turned that offer down and eventually got the guy he really wanted.

"I take it as a compliment that he thinks that highly of me," said Meyer. "He knows what he's doing and has proven that with what that team has accomplished. The A's are a classy organization and I want to measure up to the guys they already have."

Meyer attended high school in his native New Jersey, but was not drafted and opted for a collegiate baseball career.

"The thing about where I grew up is that it's just cold. You only get three months out of the year to play baseball. Plus, I wasn't the most skilled guy at that time. My fastball was only about 82-83 miles per hour. But that was fine. I got a chance to go to college and get better, and I took it."

So Meyer headed off to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, a strong baseball school that produced recent major leaguers Mike Venafro and Travis Harper, as well as former Texas Ranger Billy Sample. He studied Criminal Justice at JMU, playing baseball under Coach Spanky McFarland and alongside first baseman and 2002 A's draftee Eddie Kim.

"Eddie and I are really good friends," he said. "We work out together in the off-season and he was one of the first people I called when I heard about the trade. It'll be nice to know someone over there when I get to Spring Training."

McFarland, a pitching guru in his own right, had a hand in Meyer's progress as a pitcher, but Meyer cited another as the most influential person in his baseball life. "Oh man," he said. "My father. Definitely my father. There are a bunch of people from the Braves organization, of course, but my father was always there to direct me. My family has always been very supportive. I was always taught to work hard and that to get better you have to play against the best."

The best, in Meyer's case, is the competition he faces in professional ball. "I still have some work to do. I have to work on refining my mechanics and my location with the breaking ball. The thing about baseball is that you have to listen and learn, because nobody knows everything about the game. There's always something new to learn every day, and I try to be aware of those opportunities."

His time with the Braves was just such an opportunity. "The organization always stressed that success as a pitcher is more about location than velocity. (Braves pitching coach) Leo (Mazzone) always said that it's better to throw at 85-90% and put the ball where you want it rather than trying to overpower hitters. Big league hitters jump on mistakes, so I learned early that location is key. After that it's adjustments. You either make adjustments or you go home."

Life in the minors can be grueling, especially considering what is at stake for many of the players. Asked if there was ever any tension between players who were competing for a higher spot on the organizational depth chart, Meyer said he didn't really worry about it. "People get in trouble when they start worrying about that. I just wanted to win ballgames for the team. I guess it happens but I never really noticed anyone specifically."

Though Meyer was considered the top pitching prospect in the Braves organization by most publications that follow the minor leagues, he said it wasn't something he followed. "It's nice, but personally I feel like that comes and goes. You always see stories about guys who are hot prospects, but you can be really talented and never make it. It's about your actions on the field. That's what really counts."

Was there anything else about minor league life that he found difficult? "No problems, really. The travel is not the easiest thing. You have eight to ten hour bus rides, 30 guys crammed into the bus. Lots of sleeping on the floor. But then you walk out on the field and it's easy to forget that stuff. We play a game we love and we get paid to do it."

So what does the young lefty think he will bring to the Oakland organization? His answer will remind A's fans of another Oakland lefty. "I'm not afraid to get after hitters and I can't stand walking people," Meyer said. A's left-hander Mark Mulder is well-known for working quickly on the mound and for doing everything possible to avoid giving up walks.

Interestingly, that is not the only similarity between Meyer and Mulder. "I'm a big golfer," Meyer said. "I may not be the best golfer but I'd play golf every day. I went out to the West Coast with two friends from college last year to play golf, spend time with my agent and check out Los Angeles. I'd never been out there before, but I'm not worried about living out there at all. It was beautiful."

So does the prospect of pitching with the likes of Mulder, Barry Zito and Rich Harden faze Meyer at all?

"That's pretty good company to be in. I'm the new guy so I'm going to try to be seen and not heard and pick up as much as I can."

Todd Morgan is a Senior Writer for OaklandClubhouse.com. He can be reached at toddybaseball@comcast.net


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