In the classic episode of Seinfeld called “The Doll” (#127 for those of you who want to check it out) Elaine tries to get the signature of the least well known of the Three Tenors who will be on The Charles Grodin Show along with Jerry Seinfeld. Throughout the episode this Tenor is known only as ‘The Other Guy’.
For the 2016 edition of the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats rotation, Julian Merryweather is that Other Guy. He is slotted in the number four spot in the rotation between Luis Lugo and Sean Brady. The number one and two spots in the rotation are held down by Justus Sheffield and Mitch Brown. All three of the pitchers ahead of Merryweather are in the top 30 prospects in the Indians organization and Brady has the pedigree of having been a member of the 16 and under group of Team USA in 2010 while he was still in high school.
Selected in the fifth round of the 2014 First Year Player Draft, Merryweather began the season with 34 professional games pitched to his credit, only 16 of those coming as the starter. He was drafted out of Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU), a place he had arrived at by a circuitous route.
OBU is a Division II school with a strong record in athletics, including baseball. With no offers to play Division I baseball when he graduated from High School in Berkeley, California, he instead went to Junior College.
“I was a late bloomer.” said Merryweather. “After JUCO, Oklahoma Baptist was one of the only offers I had. It seemed like a good school, good academics, because baseball wasn’t a sure thing.”
In two seasons at OBU, he racked up a 22-5 record with a 1.73 ERA in 28 starts. To further strengthen his resume he had eleven complete games, six shutouts, and sported a 4.43 K/BB ratio while having totaled 208 strikeouts in just 182 innings. These indicators suggested he was worthy of a chance in professional baseball and that was what the Indians organization provided. He was signed and three days later reported to the Mahoning Valley team of the New York-Penn League.
After two seasons in Rookie ball and Low-A Lake County, Merryweather had performed well enough to continue as an Indians farmhand, but unless you were a member of the Scrappers or Captains booster clubs it would have been highly unlikely you would know his name. He was truly “The Other Guy”.
Through his first three starts of 2016, this status may fast be receding in his rear view mirror.
He had a 3-0 record entering play on Tuesday night, had yet to allow a run to be scored when on the mound, and struck out 13 batters while only walking two, putting him atop the league leader boards for pitchers.
When he toes the rubber, he does not come off as an imposing mound presence. At 6’4”, 200 lbs., he has been quite effective at mixing up his repertoire of fastball, curve, change-up and the slider that he is working on this season.
“My fastball and change-up are my bread and butter that I can go to,” said Merryweather, “while my curve and slider are developing right now.”
He also has the advantage of pitching in the fourth spot in the rotation, meaning he often has the opportunity to see the opposition’s hitters for a game or two before he starts. This was particularly true for his first start, where the Hillcats were playing Winston-Salem in the season’s first four games.
“I started off working the fastball,” said Merryweather. “Got comfortable and the defense made some nice plays behind me. It was definitely having a good plan, getting together with Salters [Daniel Salters] my catcher. In between innings we had conversations about the next inning and what we were going to do with hitters, the lead off guy. Being on the same page helps out a lot.”
In examining both his college and professional record, Merryweather is a control pitcher. He uses his fastball to command the strike zone and works to keep hitters off-balance as he works his way through the lineup two to three times a game.
“To get to the higher levels you need to be throwing strikes and making them earn base hits,” he said about being a control pitcher. That is the pitching philosophy he brings to each and every game.
For most of his career he has maintained a strong K/BB ratio, with his professional ratio over the 4:1 mark, similar to the numbers he had in college. Though he is not a dominant fireball-type pitcher, he uses his tools and talent to good effect.
“Getting that tilt off the mound as a pitcher is pretty common,” he said about learning to use his height to his advantage. “That is something me and Rigo [Beltran the Hillcats pitching coach] have talked about. Staying tall on the mound and really working those angles that pitchers have, to create more ground balls and swings and misses.”
He took the mound for his fourth start of the season on the road at Winston-Salem on Tuesday. He finally surrendered a run in the first inning and gave up four in the game, but just two were earned. He worked six innings, struck out three, and walked one to earn his fourth win of the season.
Having been both a starter and a reliever in his professional career, he is practical about what he needs to do to advance and get an opportunity to reach the Major Leagues.
“Whatever they want me to do I’m going to do. If I had a choice in a perfect world I would start,” said Merryweather. “I’m used to the routine of being a starter, but I have no problem coming out of the pen.”
Whichever role he eventually ends up in, the early part of the 2016 season has provided an opportunity for Merryweather to be successful. As he prepares for his next outing he will continue to follow the simple expectation for all pitchers, as he says “to just go out there and get outs.”
If he continues to do that in the way he has through his first four starts, before long we will all know his name and he will no longer be “The Other Guy”.
Photo: Lathan Goumas/The News and Advance