Meek trying to make Pirates keep him

Meek seeking to make Pirates keep him

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Evan Meek has made it no secret he sees himself as a fit in Pittsburgh.

He has lauded the leadership he sees from a new management group and coaching staff. He's been pleasantly surprised by the ease in adapting to a new group of players in a new clubhouse. And he sees the openings in the Pirates bullpen as the open door he has been waiting for.

However, the clock is ticking -- literally.

It has nothing to do with age, as the 24-year-old Meek has plenty of playing years ahead of him. Instead, it has everything to do with the circumstances in which the Pirates acquired Meek.

As a Rule 5 Draft selection, Meek must remain on the club's 25-man roster for the entire season or be offered back to the team the Pirates snagged him from, which was the Rays. In other words, if Meek doesn't make the team out of Spring Training, the Pirates likely will lose the chance to develop a talent they have been very high about.

"I don't think about [ending up back with Tampa Bay]," Meek said. "In the back of my mind, I'm telling myself that I'm going to make the team. I'm telling myself that. In the end, you can only control the things you can control."

Even though the Pirates know the potential of losing Meek looms, it still appears he has an uphill climb in denting this roster.

The Pirates selected Meek because he has a power arm. The reward would be a fastball consistently clocked in the mid-90s, something that could be an enviable bullpen weapon. The risk would be there wouldn't be enough time to develop it.

Meek has never played above Double-A -- and only one season there, at that -- making the prospect of him joining the Major League club out of camp that much more daunting.

"We think this guy can come out and try to make our club and help our bullpen right away," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said at the annual Winter Meetings.

But after two outings so far this spring, it's evident that work still needs to be done.

The club has had two chances to take a look at Meek so far, most recently on Monday, when he allowed one run on two hits in an inning of work. His line was the same back on his first start on Feb. 29 as well. Meek also had been scheduled to pitch an inning on Saturday until Friday's washout forced pitching schedules to be altered.

The biggest challenge for Meek lies in making the adjustment from a low-level Minor League pitcher to one ready to come out of a Major League bullpen. The tempo is different. The eyes of hitters are keener. The result of one mistake is magnified.

Consequently, Meek has some work to do, most notably in finding more efficient command of his fastball and learning to better hold runners on base.

"If he's a strike thrower, if he gives himself a chance to succeed with first-pitch strikes, if he manages the game -- these are all things where there is so little room for mistakes at the big league level," pitching coach Jeff Andrews said. "He's got to be able to have that in his tool bag."

The task of finding consistent command with his fastball isn't anything new for Meek. It's been a work in process for a while now.

As an 11th-round pick by Minnesota in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, Meek entered the Minors with the intention of letting loose and throwing as hard as he could. It was during those days, Meek recounted, that the radar gun would reach 97, 98 and 99 mph.

But after initial success right out of the gate, Meek's fastball began to go wild on him -- very wild.

In the next two years combined, Meek issued 76 walks in 46 innings. In that span, he also threw 23 wild pitches. The fastball that used to be so effective led to just 37 strikeouts.

Something had to change, and it ended up being Meek's velocity. Instead of taking the mound with the intention of blowing his fastball by hitters, he decided to tone down his velocity to the low- to mid-90s range.

"Just trying to throw it as hard as I can with every pitch, I was too erratic with my control," Meek said. "When you do that, it's hard to get consistent mechanics because you are just throwing it through a wall."

He also made the transition from starter to reliever. The fact that Meek relies heavily on just two pitches -- the fastball and a slider -- and that he would falter late in his starts made the fit a seemingly natural one. And, essentially, it has worked.

The control returned, and the interest in the right-hander with the power arm piqued before the Rule 5 Draft, when Meek was said to be on the radar of a number of clubs. The Pirates, with the second overall selection, simply got to him first.

Soon they'll see if he's here to stay.

"I have to perform. I have to do well. I have to give them a reason to keep me," Meek said. "In the end, they have to do what's best for the ballclub. I was well aware of this bullpen situation, but I've never said, 'Wow, this is a sure thing.'"

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.