It’s so easy to doubt Wil Myers. The player the Rays traded to get him, James Shields, happens to be the most dependable pitcher they’ve ever had in their history, and combining that fact with the usual shockwaves from trading a popular player makes it natural to emphasize Myers’ reality as a player on the exact edge of the spectrum, a highly-touted prospect but one who has never played in the major leagues and carries a ton of risk. Add in that Myers struck out 140 times at Triple-A this season, and you have enough fodder for a disgruntled fan to rant about incessantly for hours on end. But then you see Myers in person and everything changes. Just ask his current manager at Triple-A Durham, Charlie Montoyo, and his future manager with the Rays, Joe Maddon.
“Watch (batting practice) and you’ll see how the ball sounds different off his bat,” Montoyo said. “(Josh) Hamilton and (Carl) Crawford and all the guys like that, the ball sounds like that off the bat.”
“He’s more of a complete player than I thought because everyone has talked about hitting, hitting, hitting,” Maddon said. “I was expecting like a big guy who hit a lot that really didn’t move that well. Even though he played the outfield, he had been a catcher. So all these things sent confusing signals. To see him on the field, he’s very athletic and should be a solid five-tool player. He should be able to play all areas of the game above average, and some well-above average.”
There’s a big difference between batting practice and taking on major league pitching. The sound off the bat can be quite deceiving. But even as he continues to work out issues with his patience, you can’t possibly ignore all of his talent. His wrist are lightning-quick, generating prolific bat speed and the torque to hit balls an extremely long way on a regular basis. How does that make any difference if he doesn’t have any plate discipline and big league pitchers would be able to get him on a mediocre curveball out of the zone? Luckily, that’s not the case.
Before 2012, Myers’ strikeout to walk ratio had been an excellent 199-146 in 1053 plate appearances before slipping to 140-61 last season. Why did it decline so sharply? Well, the worse strikeout to walk ratio happened to coincide with a huge power surge as Myers drilled 37 home runs in 2012 compared to 27 the three years before. Looking more closely, it really wasn’t such a coincidence. Before 2012, Myers was tentative at the plate, walking quite a bit but scared to attack early in the account, something similar to what we’ve seen from Evan Longoria early on in 2013. But then Myers made a conscious effort to swing more aggressively at the plate and finally turn his raw power into something he could harness on a consistent basis and that was the direct cause of his incredible power.
In changing his approach, Myers wasn’t forsaking his patience and swinging at everything- per Minor League Central, his pitches per plate appearances was 3.96, well above the league average of 3.72, and he ranked 17th in the Pacific Coast League (minimum 400 plate appearances) and 10th in the Texas League (minimum 150 PA’s) during his time at those levels. He just swung more aggressively when he thought he saw a pitch to hit and the results were outstanding for the most part. The only issue was the strikeouts, and that’s something Myers is already working to fix. Myers drew 3 walks without striking out on Thursday for Durham and has a 9-5 strikeout to walk ratio so far in 2013. That small sample size is far from enough for the Rays to consider his plate discipline fixed, but it’s an encouraging start to a season that the Rays are confident will end with Myers as a key part of their major league lineup.
Myers is a player already known throughout baseball for his exploits at the plate. However, as Maddon touched upon, he’s more than just a big bat. Myers is an athletic 6’3″, 205 and runs very well for his size, swiping 29 of 40 bases in his pro career including 6 of 9 in 2012. And that was in the Royals organization, where baserunning is not as much of a focus. When he was healthy from 2010 to 2012, Evan Longoria was excellent at picking his spots to steal, stealing 31 of 36 bases, and Longoria will look to get back to that this season. With more work on reading pitchers, Myers could turn into exactly the same type of runner. And then there’s Myers’ defense. He moves well in right field to go along with great arm strength, but he still has work to do. In 98 games in right field in his minor league career, he has 6 outfield assists but also 6 errors, and it will be key for him to do a better job reading balls off the bat and catching the ball in a position to let off a strong throw. As Myers finishing refining his talents not just at the plate but on the basepaths in the field, he has the ability to be an extremely good all-around talent and one of the best players in baseball. But when will we see that ability surface in the major leagues?
A key deadline has already passed as Marc Topkin reported that as of yesterday, Myers has remained in the minor leagues long enough for the Rays to have him for a seventh year of team control instead of the usual six. Just because that deadline has passed, though, doesn’t mean that Myers is on the verge of being called up. The Rays want to be completely sure his plate discipline issue is behind him before bringing him up, and that hasn’t happened yet. But also one other deadline: the Super Two deadline in late June. The Rays have been in a really tough financial situation with David Price the past few years because even though they kept him down long enough to retain an additional year of team control, they called him up before the Super Two deadline, allowing Price to be eligible for arbitration four times and cost the team significantly more money in the process. If possible, the Rays would like to avoid avoid a similar situation with Myers. Talking to MLB.com’s Jonthan Mayo, however, Andrew Friedman denied that service time was a major factor.
“With any potential move there are a lot of factors to consider — the fit on our roster, what it means for our depth, and so on,” Friedman said. “We also have to be really mindful that our goal is to compete year in and year out in the toughest division in baseball with almost no margin for error.”
“The AL East will expose very quickly any weaknesses that you have. So when we bring someone here, we need to feel that he’s ready to step in and help us win right away. As [manager Joe Maddon] has touched on already this spring, if we add someone who’s not ready, not only will it hurt the team, but it can really set the player back as well.”
The Rays, along with the rest of baseball, would love to spend as little money as possible. But that doesn’t mean that the late June Super Two deadline is set in stone as the point when the Rays will call up Myers and there’s no chance they’ll call him up sooner. Especially for the Rays, they always have to be cognizant of the financial situation with their players, but their priority is and always will be winning. If Myers proves he’s ready for the big leagues as he demolishes Triple-A pitching while the Rays’ offense sputters, the Rays aren’t going to sabotage their chances of winning right now to save a few million dollars down the line. Everyone is waiting for Myers to show that his plate discipline is major league-quality and for him to catch fire at Triple-A Durham. Once than happens, everything else will fall into place. Money is important but the Rays, but far from the end-all, be-all. When Myers is ready, nothing will be able to contain the Rays from calling him up. When that transpires is anybody’s guess- but everyone knows that something special will occur when Wil Myers finally does make his major league debut.