This offseason, the Rays’ biggest offensive move was to acquire top outfield prospect and reigning Minor League Player of the Year Wil Myers from the Kansas City Royals. But while that move could pay major dividends for the Rays in the long-term, how much it affects the Rays’ 2013 effort is significantly more in question. Despite the fact that Myers is coming off a 2012 season between Double-A and Triple-A that saw him put up a .314/.387/.600 line with 37 home runs, the Rays seem all but set to send Myers back to Triple-A in 2012. Why are they doing that? First off, they can’t be completely convinced that Myers is big league ready- after all, he did strike out 140 times compared to 61 walks in 2012. If the Rays called up Myers too early and was overmatched and lost his confidence, you never know how that would affect him. The other side of the coin is that the Rays are going to be especially careful managing Myers’ service time, doing everything they can to make sure Myers won’t be Super Two eligible and will be under team control for six years instead of five. In the Rays’ eyes, a couple lost wins this year aren’t worth nearly as much as an extra year of Myers in their organization. But is there anything Myers can do to overcome those factors and make the Rays’ 25-man roster to begin the season?
The first thing Myers would absolutely have to do in spring training to make the Rays’ Opening Day roster would be to not just tear up spring training but also show marked improvement to his plate discipline after that sprung up as a concern for him in 2012 after not being an issue in the past. After managing an outstanding 1.34-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio in his first three pro seasons from 2009 to 2011, Myers slipped all the way to a 2.30-to-1 mark in 2012, with his walk rate dropping from 13.9% to 10.3% and his strikeout rate jumping from 18.9% all the way to 23.7%. Why did that happen? Well, the other, more easily noticeable difference between Myers’ 2012 compared to his previous seasons was that he slammed 37 home runs in 591 plate appearances after drilling just 27 in 1053 plate appearances the previous three years. Often increased plate discipline coincides with improved power because being more selective at the plate allows hitters to find better pitches to hit and make better quality contact. But for Myers, his increased power and strikeout and decreased patience was a conscious change in his approach at the plate. He decided to swing more aggressively and produce more lift in his swing to tap into his well above-average power, and the results speak for themselves. But before Myers can give himself a chance to hit 35+ home runs in the major leagues, he has to find a way to find a better balance between plate discipline and swinging for the fences, returning to his more patient approach while picking his spots to sell out for power, and that may be something that could take some time to materialize. Only once Myers makes those major strides doing that in spring training should he crack the Rays’ MLB roster.
What if Myers shows strides with his approach at the plate but not enough to force the Rays to bring him to the majors to begin the year? If that happens, a major tiebreaker could be if the Rays sign Myers to a team-friendly long-term contract like they did with players like Evan Longoria and Matt Moore. If Myers agrees to such a deal, hia service time would become a non-issue and they can bring him to the major leagues as soon as they deem him ready without any reason to hesitate. But at the same time, it’s not worth it for the Rays to risk bringing Myers up to the majors to early and even if they agree to an extension they could wait to make the extension official until he makes the majors like they did with Longoria in 2008. The Rays signing Myers to a long-term deal would be a cause for much celebration in the organization, but that still might not do much to convince the Rays to start Myers in the big leagues on Opening Day.
The final pivotal issue for Myers’ case to start the season in the majors is something that he can’t control in the slightest- injuries to other players. The Rays are not going to bring Myers to the majors without guaranteeing him the opportunity to be an everyday player, and at this point, they can’t say that with Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, and either Ben Zobrist or Kelly Johnson manning their three outfield spots. If one of them were to get injured, that could change everything, and even if the injury were to only last a few weeks, Myers would hope to pull off what Bryce Harper did for the Nationals in 2012 and play so well that the Rays would have no choice but to keep him in the major leagues. What would be especially interesting would be if Evan Longoria were to get injured to begin the season (not that anyone wants that happen). Myers got into 15 games at third base in the Royals’ system in 2012- would the Rays be willing to work him out more at the position and possibly use him to ease the load with Longoria gone? But everyone in the Rays system is hoping that this will become a moot point as all their key players, especially Longoria, stay healthy to begin the year, and if that happens, it would take an unbelievable spring training by Myers for him to crack the Rays’ roster. Poor performance by one of the Rays’ starting players could be the final push the Rays need to promote Myers- but the Rays are certainly not going to give up on anyone after just a poor spring training and that is something that could only happen later in the year.
Wil Myers is an extremely talented prospect and the Rays can’t wait for him to break into their lineup and become a mainstay in the middle of their order for years to come. But the more we dissect the situation, the more apparent it becomes that it will take extraordinary circumstances in the form of major strides at the plate by Myers or an injury to another key player for Myers to start 2013 in the major leagues. When the Rays’ offense inevitably goes through a rough stretch, Rays fans will be calling for Myers and analysts will rip the Rays apart for not bringing him up to their big league squad. However, the Rays’ priorities are towards the future of Myers and the future of their franchise, and pending a stunning series of events, starting Myers in the minor leagues to begin 2013 is the move the Rays have to make.