Cal Poly

He was born with three thumbs. Now this Cal Poly star is a top prospect in the MLB Draft

Cal Poly junior catcher Nick Meyer is expected to be a top pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.
Cal Poly junior catcher Nick Meyer is expected to be a top pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Nick Meyer was born with two left thumbs.

That's not some idiom or roundabout way of saying he's not good with his hands — in fact, some scouts think the Cal Poly junior catcher has some of the best defensive hands in all of college baseball.

Meyer was born with two thumbs on his left hand due a condition called pre-axial polydactyly or "thumb duplication." His extra thumb was removed when he was 2 years old and left him without a knuckle. There are side effects; he can't bend his left thumb all the way, for example.

But Meyer went on to live a normal baseball-filled childhood growing up in Southern California. Now, the junior is leaving Cal Poly as one of the top catchers on draft boards heading into the 2018 MLB Draft next week.

This season, the catcher known for his signature mustache and rocket arm had a breakout season offensively when he needed it most.

Improvement at the plate

There was never any doubt that Meyer was an elite defensive player. The Santa Margarita Catholic graduate was named Big West Freshman of the Year after he threw out 22 base runners trying to steal and picked off another 10. This season, he was named Big West Defensive Player of the Year.

Jim Callis, senior writer for MLB Pipeline on MLB.com, said recently that Meyer is one of the four best defenders in the entire 2018 draft class and the 10th best available catcher.

The questions, according to scouts, were always about his ability at the plate.

But Meyer, 21, made a dramatic leap in batting average his junior season. After hitting .255 as a sophomore, Meyer hit .344 during his junior campaign and was .1 percentage point away from claiming a share of the Big West batting title.

"Sophomore year, I think I was just too aggressive," Meyer said. "This year, I worked with (Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee) on just being consistent no matter the situation and being more patient."

He also improved his slugging percentage, on-base percentage and had eight more doubles than he did last season. Over his last 27 games, Meyer hit .405 and had a 16-game hitting streak.

He also struck out just 49 times in 600 at-bats over three seasons.

"He definitely increased his stock in the draft," Lee said of his performance this season.

Lee said Meyer also has the kind of valuable assets that don't show up on a stat sheet.

"He's the only catcher that I have ever allowed to call pitches during a game," Lee said. "He's the smartest player I've had in 35 years. It was like having another coach on the field. He made the pitchers better."

Projections have Meyer going in the late-fifth or early-sixth round of the draft, which begins Monday and lasts until Wednesday. If he is drafted, Meyer said he will make the leap to the pros.

"There are some circumstances where I would come back (to Cal Poly), but I just don't think those are going to happen," Meyer said.

Cal Poly junior center fielder Alex McKenna is a top MLB Draft target, but he's determined to help the Mustangs win before he pursues his Major League dreams.

Draft-day duo

Meyer was selected as a 2018 All-Big West first-team member along with teammate Alex McKenna, another player expected to be selected early in the draft. The two have the same draft adviser and have been training for this moment since they arrived at Cal Poly.

According to MLB.com, McKenna is the 97th best prospect and is expected to be picked in the second or third round. Either way, it will be a nice pay day for the Alemany High School product. Last year, the last pick in the third round signed a contract worth $511,900.

McKenna's scouting profile is the opposite of Meyers'.

"McKenna's loudest tool is his bat, with an advanced approach and line-drive oriented spring. He does have good bat speed and some raw power to tap into, though he hasn't done so yet collegiately," writes MLB.com. "He has solid average speed and good instincts on the basepaths. Where the main divergence in opinion about McKenna is where he profiles defensively. Some feel he can stay in center long-term, which obviously improves his profile. Others think he'll have to move to left or would profile best as a fourth outfielder."

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McKenna's batting average dipped slightly during his junior season (from .356 as a sophomore to .339), but he had career highs in runs (51), doubles (15), walks (27), on-base percentage (.424) and slugging percentage (.506) and was selected as the 2018 Big West Conference Field Player of the Year.

He also made his fair share of outstanding defensive plays.

"(McKenna) had a real good year for us, and his potential is still untapped," Lee said. "Now he has to develop into more of a power guy at the next level."

If Meyer and McKenna are selected where they are projected, it would be the second year in a row that Cal Poly produced two players drafted in the first six rounds. Pitchers Spencer Howard (Philadelphia Phillies) and Erich Uelmen (Chicago Cubs) were drafted in the second and fourth rounds, respectively.

Three more Cal Poly juniors — shortstop Kyle Marinconz, pitcher Jarred Zill and pitcher Michael Clark — could also draw interest in this year's draft, though in later, less lucrative rounds.

"I don't know if any or all three will get drafted," Lee said. "If (Marinconz, Zill and Clark) do get drafted, players have that allure to the big leagues. It's hard to pass it up sometimes."

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