Last Thursday (Aug. 6), I went to Stockton to get the scuttlebutt on the A's most talent-laden farm team, the Ports. Unfortunately, top prospects Franklin Barreto and Matt Chapman were in Arizona rehabbing wrist injuries, but I was able to catch Casey Meisner, as well as new catcher Jacob Nottingham and recent-promotee Yairo Munoz.
When the trade deadline whirlwind blew in several new faces, Casey Meisner's was the one seemingly lost in the shuffle. To refresh your memory, he was acquired from the pitching-rich Mets in exchange for Tyler Clippard on July 27. He's barely been discussed much in these digital pages.
(Side note: I interviewed Nottingham and Munoz, but I'll do a separate post with video, quotes, and impressions later this week.)
The Mets drafted Meisner, who only turned 20 in May, in the third round in 2013. At 6-foot-7 and 190-pounds, Meisner's body can adequately be described as a beanpole. It's a great frame for a pitcher, although he falls victim to many of the traps presented by great physical size -- more on that later.
Meisner was having a breakout season with the Mets before joining the A's organization. In fact, he was named to the South-Atlantic League (SAL) All-Star team, after posting a 2.13 ERA over 76 innings (66/19 SO/BB). In late June, he was promoted to High-A St. Lucie in the Florida State League, where he also posted a sub-3.00 ERA (2.83) in six starts (35 IP). He was similarly good at previous levels, making strong impressions in both the Gulf Coast (2013) and New York-Penn Leagues (2014).
He struggled in his first start with the Ports, allowing three runs on four hits in just 3 2/3 innings (4 BB, 4 SO) to the San Jose Giants. On Thursday, his second start, Meisner was better; his final line: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R (2 ER), 1 BB, 1 SO. He should have finished the fifth inning, but an error by the shortstop, Munoz, signaled an early exit.
Meisner has a big man's delivery and owns both its benefits and shortfalls. He uses natural length and leverage to create tough angles and, despite limited help from his lower half, creates tremendous arm speed -- his fastball touched 94 mph. The first half of his delivery is well balanced, his wind-up slow and deliberate. At the top of his leg lift, his head is planted firmly over his center of mass.
Once he begins his stride, however, things fall apart. The sequencing between his upper and lower halves is worrisome. Meisner's hip and shoulders move (mostly) together. Separation between the hip and shoulder movements is the biggest underpinning of a high-velocity delivery. In fact, on certain pitches, his arm lurches forward before his landing foot comes down. This is a huge no-no.
The other concern I have is his stiff landing. He has a long stride, although it's for his height, which produces a deep release point. His front leg movements, however, vary a ton from pitch to pitch, and are a significant cause for concern, presenting major obstacles in repetition, deceleration and command/control.
Sometimes he'll land softer -- the knee gliding forward -- only to jerk it straight at release. Oddly enough, he didn't do this much in the bullpen. In fact, virtually all aspects of his delivery looked better during in the bullpen (see video). The problem with landing stiff is a pitcher risks blocking, or preventing, himself from finishing his pitches. Meinser incidentally bends forward at the hips to compensate for the movement. This also appears to be the culprit of the "head whack" you sometimes see from him -- something that's been ameliorated significantly since being drafted in 2013.
Sometimes Meisner's landing flashes 'fine' (see above)
"Head whack," an unofficial term, is when a pitcher jerks their head to the glove slide at release (see curveball at 0:57 in video). Meisner's has been ameliorated considerably since he was drafted.
His fastball currently sits in the 89-92 range, although he showed me 94 (once). If he tightens up his delivery, there's room for growth, or at least the potential hold more velocity. The pitch is pretty straight, but he moves it around the zone effectively (especially to glove side) and induces swings-and-misses up in the zone. He primarily mixes it with a 73-76 mph curveball, that sometimes shows tight two-plane break, but -- more often -- just spins (for example, watch the two consecutive bullpen curveballs that start at 0:50 seconds).
In the at-bat that starts at 2:36, you can see him effectively sequence his fastball/curveball combo. He starts the hitter off with two curveballs, before spotting 91 on the black. He throws another curveball in the dirt, and then registers a punch-out on an elevated fastball. The change up, of course, is lagging behind. It was mostly 76-79, good velocity separation from the fastball, showing tumble and fade to the arm-side as well(1:35). He can't throw it for strikes yet, though, and hasn't figured out how to duplicate his fastball arm speed, but, all in all, he could have two average pitches if things break right.
What impressed me most was his loose, quick arm. It's not something every pitcher has, and if he can sort out some of this issues with his lower half, there's a chance he could develop a plus fastball. The arm-speed also gives me hope that his inconsistent change up will also come along.
The good news is: he's 20. With some added functional strength and experience, the sky is... kind of... the limit. That is, his ceiling is amorphous. He's not a sure thing, by any means. His floor is a minor league starter, but, if things break right, he could develop into a solid mid-rotation starter in the mold of Chris Tillman. We'll track his progress as he moves up the chain.