Gil Meche Prospect Retro
The big question for baseball fans here in the Kansas City area this winter is the Gil Meche signing. On the one hand, people are happy that Royals ownership is finally willing to put out money to bring players to town. On the other hand. . .it's Gil Meche. He's got a good arm, but is erratic. Who is this guy and what was he like as a prospect?
Meche was a first round pick in 1996, out of high school in Lafayette, Louisiana, 22nd overall. Most teams saw him as a third or fourth round talent because of an erratic senior year that saw dropping velocity, but the Mariners cut him some scouting slack because he had been physically weakened by a virus for much of the spring, hurting his velocity. A sore elbow was also worrisome, but they felt that a few months of rest were all that was needed to restore his fastball. He pitched just three innings in rookie ball after signing, allowing four hits and two runs while striking out four. I didn't give grades to rookie ball pitchers back then, but nowadays a similar pitcher would probably get something like a B- from me.
Meche pitched in the Northwest League in 1997, posting a 3.98 ERA with a 62/24 K/BB in 75 innings for Everett. He also made two late-season starts for Wisconsin in the Midwest League, losing both games but posting a 14/4 K/BB in 12 innings. He threw 92-94 MPH most of the summer with a very good curveball and better-than-expected command. Grade B would be appropriate.
Meche moved up to Wisconsin full-time in 1998, going 8-7, 3.44 with a 168/63 K/BB in 149 innings. His K/IP was excellent, as he continued to work his fastball at 92-95 MPH while improving his curveball, slider, and changeup. His control needed work, but his ceiling was obviously very high. But as I wrote in the 1998 Minor League Scouting Notebook: "outstanding pitching talents in the Midwest League have a habit of burning out before they reach the majors." I gave him a B+.
Meche pitched so well in spring training '99 that he skipped advanced A and went right to Double-A, going 3-4, 3.05 in 10 starts. Promoted to Triple-A, he went 2-2, 3.19 in six starts, then reached the majors, going 8-4, 4.73 in 15 starts. However, his K/BB was horrible at 47/57 in 86 innings. . .obviously he needed to improve his control. He had too much experience at that point to be in the 2000 book. He was certainly an exciting young pitcher, jumping from the Midwest League to the majors in less than a year. But the ugly K/BB stood out as a red flag for his future.
He posted a 3.78 ERA in 15 starts for the Mariners in 2000, but hurt his arm and ended up missing all of '01 following surgery. He came back in '02 and was terrible in Double-A (6.51 ERA in 65 innings). He rebounded in '03 and won 15 games for the Mariners, but has been erratic ever since. His stuff is still strong, but his control remains problematic.
Meche rose rapidly through the Mariners farm system, probably too quickly. . ..he was pushed very aggressively in '99 and perhaps a more conservative approach would have been better for him. As for what the future holds, my guess is that he'll be a league-average pitcher, but that durability and command will remain issues.