Gophers pitcher Max Meyer always believed he would play pro baseball, even if others doubted him

Minnesota Gophers pitcher Max Meyer of Woodbury, Minn., photographed in Minneaplis on Jan. 31, 2020. (Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota Athletics)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Max Meyer has never had a backup plan.

As a kid, if someone asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Meyer would consistently reply, “a pro baseball player.”

Most kids say that when they’re 5 years old. Maybe even when they’re 10 years old. Then eventually it fades.

They develop new interests, or more often, realize that going pro probably isn’t an option for them.

Not Meyer.


Even as an lanky teenager at Woodbury High School, he never lost sight of his ultimate goal. His classmates would write about their career goals in the business world. As always, he would write about how he was going to be a pro baseball player.

Was he determined and delusional? Maybe a little bit of both?

“No one was going to tell me otherwise,” said Meyer, whose third season pitching for the University of Minnesota was cut short by the coronavirus in mid-March. “That has always been my motto.”

Now he’s on the precipice of proving anyone who ever doubted him wrong. It’s a matter of when, not if, with the 2020 MLB Draft coming up on Wednesday night.

It shouldn’t take long for Meyer to hear his name called. He almost universally is projected as a Top 10 pick, with some mock drafts having him going in the Top 5.

“I’ve definitely pictured it,” he said. “It’s going to be one of the best days of my life. I can’t wait to see the emotions I get from it and my family. It’s going to be a special night.”

‘They're getting a winner’

As confident as Meyer is, so much so that it often gets mistaken for cockiness, not even he could have predicted this meteoric rise.

He was undersized in high school, maybe 150 pounds soaking wet. He had enough stuff to dominate the Suburban East Conference, relying heavily on his slider, which still remains his best pitch.


That said, Meyer wasn’t viewed as a legitimate top prospect at that point.

He remembers being chosen by the Twins in the 34th round of the 2017 MLB Draft, and while it was a cool moment for him, he knew it was a courtesy pick more than anything else.

He was never going to sign. He knew it, and the Twins knew it.

“That’s what they kind of did for seniors in high school who had a great senior campaign,” Meyer said. “I didn’t even know that the draft was going on. I was hanging out with my buddies on the way home from a mall going shopping or something. I got a call and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It’s pretty cool. I definitely wasn’t as into it as I am now. I guess I have to be this year.”

Indeed. He has spent much of the past couple of months working out and eating — he has hit his goal weight of 200 pounds for the first time in his life — before knocking out virtual interview after virtual interview with various teams.

“I like to tell them that they’re getting a winner,” Meyer said. “I feel like I’m competitive and confident enough to succeed at the next level. I just trust my abilities. I’m going to be the same pitcher in pro ball that I am in college and I was in high school.”

Talk to him for a few minutes and it’s hard to doubt him. He has a swagger about him.

“I always thought I’d be good,” Meyer said. “I have crazy confidence in myself.”


His confidence aside, he said if someone told him back in high school that he was going to be a top-10 draft pick one day, it would have been hard to believe.

“I would’ve been like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve got to work extremely hard for that,’ ” Meyer said. “I’ve always thought if I work hard enough, I can get there from my hard work and my god-given abilities, but yeah, it’s still crazy to me.”

‘Success wherever he went’

Despite his dominance as a starter in high school, longtime Gophers baseball coach John Anderson slotted Meyer into the closer role when he arrived on the Minnesota campus as a freshman.

That gave Meyer a chance to go out and throw his best stuff without fear of having to save anything for later in the game.

He tied the program record with 16 saves, earned freshman first-team All-American honors, and secured a spot on the Team USA roster over the summer.

His high school coach, Kevin McDermott, watched from afar, proud of what he was seeing, though not at all surprised

“As soon as the momentum got going, I could tell it wasn’t going to stop,” McDermott said. “You could kind of just tell he was going to keep going.”

That’s what McDermott has come to expect from Meyer. He remembers being Meyer’s teacher for team sports class in high school and the swagger with which he carried himself.


“He brought a great deal of confidence in a fun way, and it seemed like every single sport we played, his team was always in the championship game,” McDermott said. “He wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s how he carries himself in life. I was very confident that Max was going to go and find success wherever he went.”

Meyer transitioned back into a starter as a sophomore at Minnesota learning to command his fastball, developing a change-up to mix in, and refining his slider. He finished that season with a 5-3 record, a 2.11 earned-run average and a team-high 87 strikeouts.

“You started to get an inkling that he could be something special someday,” Anderson said. “He’s really dove in and learned how to become a better pitcher and how to sequence his pitches to get hitters out.”

“I told him ‘You can’t just sit back and rely on that slider,’ ” Anderson said, challenging Meyer to think about how to outsmart hitters from the mound rather than simply overpower them. “I give him credit. That’s what he’s done. It’s been impressive to watch him go about his business.”

After being tabbed as a consensus Preseason All-American as a junior, Meyer posted a 3-1 record before the coronavirus pandemic prematurely ended his collegiate career. finishing with a team-low 1.95 ERA and team-high 46 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings.

“I put on a lot more weight, a lot more muscle, and I got my fastball from low-to-mid 90s to sitting up in the upper 90s,” Meyer said of his overall improvement. “That was a big thing for me and then it was just going out there and trusting myself.”

‘Best breaking ball in the draft’

As far as Twins scouting director Scott Johnson is concerned, there’s no way Meyer makes it to them at No. 27 overall. If only he would have signed a few years ago.

“I don’t foresee that he’ll get to our range of the draft,” Johnson said. “We’d be fortunate if he made it down to our neck of the woods.”


He won’t. Not with a fastball that could top out in the triple digits and a slider that many consider the best in the entire draft.

“His slider is, in our minds, the best breaking ball in the draft,” Johnson said. “It’s been a really good pitch for him, and that’s really how he’s dominated college baseball to this point. But I think he’s really learned how to pitch and pace himself as a starter and he’s added a (change-up), which is important to be a starter long term.”

That slider that everyone raves about remains imprinted in McDermott’s mind.

“It’s the same pitch,” McDermott said. “That thing was filthy when he was 17 years old, and it’s filthy now. You knew that was going to be a really, really good pitch at any level. And it’s going to be a good pitch even at the next level.”

Maybe the only question about Meyer at this point is his stamina and whether he can maintain his stuff over the course of an entire game. That will play itself out over time.

“I think the thing on Max will be, ‘Do you think he’s a long-term starter?’ ” Johnson said. “I think that’s one thing he’ll always probably have to prove to people. I know he thinks he is and a lot of people do, including the Twins. I think he’s going to go really well in the draft.”

As much as Meyer wants to succeed at the next level, he isn’t going to put too much pressure on himself regardless how high he goes in the draft.

“Honestly, I don’t feel pressure to do anything,” he said. “I’ve been doing it, I feel like, my whole life where I’m looked at as a guy that has got to perform. I’ve always had confidence in myself, and I’m not going to make any situation bigger than it is. I’m a firm believer that whatever happens, happens, so I guess that’s kind of the mentality I have.”

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