Earlier this week, the Twins made it public that they are going to have minor league pitching enigma Alex Meyer return to the starting rotation upon the beginning of the season with Triple-A Rochester. Meyer has spent the majority of his professional career as a starter, but was shifted to the bullpen last season as his mechanics and control faltered. The organization appeared to be split on what was best for Meyer, but ultimately they determined that he should continue to work on his change-up and take advantage of the extra bullpen sessions.
The argument for Meyer sticking in the rotation is that his ceiling is as a top-end starting pitcher capable of throwing gas into the mid-90s with regularity. Additionally, starting every fifth day with throwing sessions in between would give him more opportunities to work on his adjustments. However, his change-up is still a work in progress and starting would most likely mean that he'd have to focus on repeating his mechanics while throwing from both the windup and the stretch (granted, Yu Darvish and Carlos Carrasco are two starting pitchers that pitch exclusively from the stretch, even with no runners on base).
Meanwhile, being a reliever in the minors would allow Meyer an earlier chance to bounce back after a rough outing, plus he'd only have to focus on pitching from the stretch. Meyer has also expressed a preference for relieving and the shorter bursts would allow him to pump his fastball into the upper-90s. But, this also means he could get by on just his heater and knuckle-curve as the need for a third pitch is minimized when you're facing just a couple hitters every two days or so.
Derek Wetmore of 1500 ESPN recently wrote that he felt the Twins were making a mistake here. He argued that Meyer's future lies as a reliever, thus it makes the most sense to give him as much experience as possible in that role. Wetmore also added that the Twins are contradicting themselves by having Trevor May - easily a better pitcher at this moment in time - relieve while Meyer gets another shot at starting.
However, I think Wetmore is wrong. In response to his first point, Meyer's ceiling may not be as an ace starter like we dreamed upon back when he was first acquired for Denard Span, but he can still be an effective rotation member. His control is and always has been a concern. However, last year was the first season where he legitimately struggled as a pitcher. One can certainly argue that 2014 wasn't that great as well (a 3.52 ERA isn't that impressive in the minors and he walked essentially one batter every two innings) but it's not like it was a disaster, either.
Last season, Meyer tossed a 4.79 ERA (though a much better 3.28 FIP) in 92 innings at Triple-A Rochester. He had a career-worst 4.72 BB/9 that would rank among the worst pitchers if he were in the majors, his 23.9% strikeout rate was the lowest of his career save for a seven-game, 39-inning cameo at Washington's High-A affiliate during his rookie season of pro ball, and his .277 batting average allowed was easily his worst at any stop in the minors. In Wetmore's piece, Meyer admitted that he had two struggles last season. The first was one that's always been a concern: his mechanics. Meyer stated that his arm was dropping down too low, releasing the ball at a low three-quarters position. Being 6'9", Meyer especially is one of those pitchers that benefits from a higher arm slot that creates that "good downward plane" that Bert Blyleven always lectures on broadcasts. Thanks to the sharper angle the ball travels when coming to the plate, it becomes harder for the batter to make contact thanks to the hitter's swing plane traveling a different path.
Meyer's second struggle was with his knuckle-curve, his lone breaking pitch. With the lack of a change-up and the inability to have a feel for the curve, Meyer was stuck relying on his fastball last season. But, combined with the wonky arm slot, it was a recipe for disaster. He couldn't throw any offspeed or breaking pitches due to their ineffectiveness, but couldn't beat hitters with the fastball because of his poor control.
I'm no expert but I'm willing to count on the Twins fixing Meyer's mechanics so he has a more consistent and more effective arm slot. Additionally, he said he eventually found his curveball towards the end of last season (demonstrated by allowing just two runs over his final 22 innings), so there is the hope that these corrections will help Meyer get back on track for the 2016 season.
Finally, as I mentioned before, Meyer's ceiling is still as a solid rotation arm if he puts everything together. If he succeeds in his role, that's excellent as he becomes another weapon the Twins can call up after Jose Berrios gets his inevitable promotion. If he's merely decent as a starter, the Twins can choose whether he's earned a major league rotation spot or they can shift him into the bullpen. If he struggles, well then we know he's going back to the 'pen. If he were to begin the season as a reliever, then the only way he would make it to the majors was if the Twins lost a reliever or Ricky Nolasco was shifted back to the rotation.
Keeping Meyer as a starter gives the Twins more options, something that I feel is beneficial for the organization, plus I'm not quite ready to give up on him. But, if this season ends up being a repeat of 2015, then I'll start to agree with Wetmore that Meyer's future is as a reliever.