Draft day didn’t start out like any normal Monday morning for Justin Meis. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ 10th-round pick found himself in the right place at the right time to celebrate one of his baseball dreams coming true.
“I was actually on vacation with my family in Deep Creek, Maryland. Our family’s been going down there since I’ve been alive. It’s just the same week every year and it happened to fall on draft week. I was trying not to watch the draft actually. I was just trying to let it come to me and not psych myself out.” - Meis
Meis, a 6’2’’ 160-pound right-handed pitcher from Bethel Park who attended Eastern Michigan for three years of college ball, said he received a few phone calls throughout the day and was thrilled to hear his name called at pick No. 283 overall.
“I got a couple of phone calls throughout the day, but when I got the final call from the Pirates, I was right by the lake, my family was there, and I’ll never forget one of the guys from the Pirates called me and said ‘congratulations we’re going to select you with our next pick’ and I just turned around to my family and gave them a thumbs-up. They knew I was talking to the Pirates a few times right before that so they knew it was the Pirates.” - Meis
Wrapping up Day 2 with these guys. pic.twitter.com/2eCmRZTEeo— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) July 12, 2021
Being able to enjoy the moment surrounded by his entire family is something Meis does not take for granted, and he appreciated their support.
“It really meant everything. I wouldn’t be here today and have the opportunity to even get a phone call like that if it wasn’t for them. It was really cool to celebrate with them and we still had a couple days left on vacation, so it was cool to spend the last couple days with them.” - Meis
To be picked in the MLB Draft is one thing, but to be selected by your hometown team is a rarity for any aspiring professional athlete. The reality of his baseball journey to the Pittsburgh Pirates took a while for Meis to process and register in his mind.
“It’s pretty unbelievable. The first couple days it didn’t set in for me like ‘you got drafted by the Pirates.’ I’ve been going to games since I was five or six years old and I’ve probably been down to PNC with my friends at least 40 or 50 times. When I was there with the other drafted players it started to sink in a little more like ‘ok, I DID get drafted by the Pirates’ which is super cool… I couldn’t have dreamed of this.” - Meis
Meis has been on the Pirates’ radar dating back to the completion of his fall-ball season, talking to the team on Zoom about his personality and interests and hearing from them throughout his final season at Eastern Michigan.
“That type of call was personal questions, not really asking too much about baseball, just getting to know me. It’s kind of here and there throughout the year. You’ll get a phone call or hear from a coach that ‘hey the Pirates contacted me about you.’ The last two weeks before the draft is when things started ramping up a little bit. A couple more phone calls.” - Meis
Meis credits some of his improved development to pitching in the 10-team Cape Cod League, a wood-bat league known for hosting some of the game’s best amateur talent, including the Pirates' first two 2020 picks in Nick Gonzales and Carmen Mlodzinski. Meis pitched to a 2.08 ERA in four games for the Cotuit Kettleers, only allowing four earned runs in 17 ⅓ innings, striking out 17, and walking three.
“It taught me there are a lot of good players around. The competition and talent out there is pretty unbelievable. Every night for me being a pitcher you’re facing nine guys in the lineup who are ‘the dude’ at their school. It definitely helped me going up there and showcasing a little more of what I can do and I’m pretty glad the Pirates were up there and saw it.” - Meis
Baseball has always been one of Meis’s most passionate life endeavors and his love for the game began to take shape at Bethel Park High School, one of the area’s top high school programs and winners of the 2021 PIAA 5-A State Championship. He also mentioned playing alongside former Blackhawk pitcher and Oakland A’s third-round pick (97th overall) Mason Miller as another successful alumnus of the team.
“Bethel helped me a ton. What I really took from it was the mindset you need to move forward and how to prepare properly. It’s always been a pretty good baseball school. I was rooting for them this year when they won the state championship. Bethel’s baseball program is on the rise.” - Meis
Competing and starting his freshman year at Eastern Michigan helped Meis to gain valuable experience, despite struggling to a 7.45 ERA in 14 appearances (12 starts) over 58 total innings, allowing 92 hits and 48 earned runs.
“The speed of the game is a lot quicker in college. A lot of it is preparation and how you mentally prepare for the games. As you get older and experience more you know what you need to do to get ready, developing a routine for your preparation.” - Meis
The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into the 2020 season, one in which Meis had started only four games, striking out 29 in 20 ⅔ innings. Away from the program, Meis spent a large amount of time with his younger brother Ryan, a guard on Seton Hill University’s men’s basketball team, playing catch in the backyard and working out in the garage, staying in shape for when the doors would reopen one again.
“It was really good being able to be with him. It was good to have him there to push me to get better each day.” - Meis
Once the 2021 baseball season was ready to begin after almost a year off, Meis felt ready to go for his junior season and proved it on the road against eventual College World Series Champion Mississippi State on March 13. Meis delivered eight dominant innings for the Eagles and left the contest leading 1-0. Despite his team giving up four runs in the ninth to an impressive Bulldog offense, Meis opened many eyes with three 1-2-3 innings and taking control of at-bats.
“Their stadium and their fans are unbelievable. It was one of those days I won’t ever forget. It was one of those things as a pitcher when you feel good from the start. I didn’t really do anything different before the game or during the game that led me to do that. It was just one of those days that I had my stuff working. It was obviously the coolest experience of my baseball career so far.” - Meis
⚾️Held Mississippi State hitless through 5.2 innings— EMU Baseball (@EMU_Baseball) March 14, 2021
⚾️Tossed eight scoreless innings
⚾️Held the Bulldogs to their longest scoreless stretch of the season (8 innings)
Have yourself a day, @justinmeis2❕ #EMUEagles | #EMUBats pic.twitter.com/eGDIsCJCHz
Meis’s philosophy on the mound centers around his confidence in getting the job done. He finished his final season with a career-best 4.64 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 14 appearances (13 starts) spanning 73 ⅔ innings, allowing a career-low .264 opponent average.
“I think about the hitter a little bit, but 95 times out of 100 I’m going to pitch to my strengths and attack the hitter. I like to work fast, keep the defense involved, and throw a lot of strikes. I do like to strike guys out, but if I can get first-pitch groundouts every time I’ll take it.”
“If I need a strikeout I probably throw a slider. I’ve been throwing a slider my whole life. I have a lot of confidence throwing it. I think it plays well off my fastball too.” - Meis
Meis has a fastball that has run between 90-94 MPH while at the Cape and likes to use it alongside his strong slider.
“My fastball has a little arm-side run. It goes in to a right-handed hitter and slider goes away to a right-handed hitter. It’s something that goes a little bit in both directions and I think that helps the slider work.” - Meis
Justin Meis, RHP @CotuitKettleers @EMichiganU FB: 91-93, slurvy breaking ball 80-83 mph w/ two-plane mvmt, CHG 84-87 mph. Long A/A, low 3/4 slot, strike thrower that pitches to contact.— PG College Baseball (@PGCollegeBall) June 21, 2021
3.1 IP, 3H, 2 ER, BB, K (64 pitches/41 strikes) #PGCape pic.twitter.com/514Ur7bvsd
The Pirates are getting an all-around competitor in Meis and is locked in on winning for his hometown team. Now in Pirates City, the right-hander is ready to begin his journey back home to win a championship.
“I’d like to think that I’m going to be one to help them win games and ultimately win a World Series. I love to compete, it’s probably my favorite thing to do whether it’s baseball or if I’m playing you in cards I’m going to try to win.” - Meis
Meis sleeps holding a pair of Nike socks to bed with him, and he hopes that one day he will be holding the official team socks of his hometown team and taking the mound at PNC Park for years to come.
“I’m a competitor and I’ll do whatever it takes to win and I hope I can be a part of the future with the Pirates.” - Meis