On the Bubble: Dan Meyer, Starting Pitcher

<I>This is the fifth in a series of articles focusing on A's prospects who are battling for 25-man roster spots this spring.</I><br> One of the most intriguing Oakland A's spring training battles will be for the 4th and 5th starting rotation slots. Dan Meyer, who was acquired from the Braves this off-season, is battling for one of those slots. It is conventional wisdom that Meyer will one day be a long-term member of the A's rotation, but will he be in the rotation to start the 2005 season?

Dan Meyer might have been traded for Tim Hudson, but in a lot of ways, the A's are looking for him to "replace" Mark Mulder as the second left-hander in the rotation. As recently as 2003, the A's sported three quality lefties in their rotation (Mulder, Barry Zito and Ted Lilly). They also had strong left-handed starting prospects John Rheinecker and Bill Murphy working their way through the system. In other words, it seemed that there was no shortage of left-handed starting pitching talent in the A's organization.

A funny thing happened between 2003 and the off-season of 2004/2005. Lilly was traded. Mulder was injured for the last six weeks of the 2003 season and struggled for the last two months of the 2004 season. Zito had two straight seasons of double-digit losses. As for the prospects? Well, Rheinecker's progress stalled at the AAA level, as his K:9 rate fell while his BB:9 and H:9 ratios went up. And Murphy was traded to Florida as part of the Mark Redman deal before the 2004 season.

So going into the 2005 season, A's GM Billy Beane was faced with an interesting dilemma. Although both Mulder and Zito were signed through 2006, he knew that it was unlikely that the A's would retain both pitchers at the end of that season. And with no obvious replacements for the two lefties coming through the higher levels of the A's system, Beane decided to be proactive and trade Tim Hudson for a young lefty who could give the A's six more years of service.

In many ways, the A's could have had their pick of prospects for Hudson's services. They flirted with the idea of acquiring the Baltimore Orioles' left-handed prospect Erik Bedard, but decided instead to target Meyer. What might have attracted the A's to Meyer most is his similarity to Mulder. Meyer is a tall lefty (6'3'') who throws over the top with good velocity (his fastball touches 91-94 MPH). Like Mulder, Meyer mixes in a lot of different pitches, including a slider, curveball, split-fingered fastball and a change-up. He works quickly and doesn't walk many batters.

Up to this point in his professional career, Meyer has struck out close to ten batters per nine innings while allowing only a little more than one base runner per inning. Since being drafted out of James Madison University in the first round of the 2002 draft, Meyer has moved steadily up the chain of the Braves' minor league chain. Although his first winning season didn't come until the 2004 campaign, Meyer never posted an ERA over 2.87 in any of his minor league seasons.

Meyer also had never posted a WHIP above 1.11 until his half-season stint at AAA in 2004. He made 11 starts for AAA-Richmond at the end of last season, and even though his ERA was a solid 2.79, his WHIP jumped to 1.42. The increase was, in large part, because he began walking batters at a much higher rate then he had at AA. He also saw an increase in the number of homeruns that he gave up during that stint in AAA.

It is because of this small hiccup at Richmond that some feel the A's will decide to start Meyer in AAA again this year in order for him to gain more seasoning at the AAA level. The A's have a stable of pitchers who can step into the last two spots of the rotation, including fellow rookie Joe Blanton. Although it is possible that the A's will put both Blanton and Meyer in the rotation to start the season, it seems likely that the A's will carry only one rookie in the rotation, at least to start the season. If Oakland does decide to limit their rotation to one rookie in April, Blanton would have the slight early advantage over Meyer due to Blanton's full year of service in AAA.

That being said, if Meyer comes into camp and pitches with the same effectiveness he showed in AA, the A's will not send him back to the minors just so they can have a more veteran player on the staff. Manager Ken Macha was already quoted in a local Bay Area newspaper that he was watching every move that Meyer made in camp. If Macha likes what he sees, Meyer should be wearing green and gold in April.

Oakland Clubhouse Top Stories