As Spring Training began for the Rays this year, many questions still needed to be answered. Who would be the fifth starter in the rotation? Are third baseman Evan Longoria and designated hitter Luke Scott healthy? Who would fill the gap in center field with B.J. Upton gone? But as these questions were slowly solved, one question still remains in the minds of the Rays and fans: when will top prospect Wil Myers make his big league debut?
The Rays are known for taking their time with young talent and ensuring that a player does not get called up until he is ready to handle the pressures of playing in the majors. Andrew Friedman, the Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations, told Chuck Myron of MLB Trade Rumors, “When we bring someone here, we need to feel that he’s ready to step in and help us win right away. As Joe 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.”
As Baseball America’s 2012 Player of the Year, Myers hit .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs last season between Double-A and Triple-A in the Kansas City Royals organization. But while the Rays were excited to acquire one of Major League Baseball’s top prospects from the trade that sent pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City, they still have some work to do with Myers. The power hitter racked up 140 strikeouts in 591 plate appearances during 2012, showing that he still needs more experience at the plate before getting a call from the Rays.
Starting pitcher Alex Cobb, who earned a spot in the Rays starting rotation this season, knows what it is like to be waiting for that call. Beginning in rookie ball in 2006, Cobb did not make his Major League debut with the Rays until 2011, saying that the long wait was tough to deal with at times.
“I’ve been victim to it as much as guys in the past, but you understand it,” Cobb told MLBTR. “There’s pros and cons of being in this organization…And so, when that does happen to you, you understand that you just have to pay your dues…It’s not a bad thing, once you’ve beaten that. It’s very discouraging while you’re going through it, and you try to put on as good a front as you can, but it is tough. But, going through it, it makes you a stronger person on and off the field. So, it’s only going to make you better between the ears when you get up here and finally do stick. You really do appreciate it.”
When asked about whether or not Cobb or other Rays minor league players have a grudge towards the Rays preference to take their time with players, Cobb responded, “Initially, maybe, that’s their first instinct, is to get mad. But I think when your head cools down, you prevail from whatever the emotions you’re going through, and you realize that it’s a smart business decision…I think it’s become an understanding that now you pay your dues, and you do it, and you eventually become a better big leaguer for it, and you have a great career afterwards.”
Before the season began, rumors swirled that May or June could be the time when Myers gets called up. However, the Rays still do not seem to be rushing things, despite the hype built up about Myers. The Rays want to make sure that Myers spends enough time in Triple-A during 2013 to build his confidence and help him become mentally ready for the pressures of the big leagues. Myers needs to understand that every player experiences things that are out of their control of that feel unfair when playing in the pros.
Back in December, manager Joe Maddon told Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune, “I’m more interested not in that he’s going to hit 30 homers, I’m more interested in what people think of him and how he answers questions…From what I’ve heard so far I do discern calm, I do discern self-confidence, and I do discern a team player, which is all good stuff. All that other stuff, the stats, that should take care of itself. But we have high expectations of winning, and we’re looking for that stage three player turning into a stage five player as soon possible, going from I belong to I want to win.”
Maddon also told Mooney that he believes players do best when they get called up during the season.
“I’ve always felt that it should be easier for a young player to make the team season in progress as opposed to out of spring training,” Maddon said. “When they make the team out of spring training expectations get raised even higher, and I think if you’re really looking for a young man to apply pressure to himself it’s then.”
With the season underway, only time will tell the Rays when Myers is ready to play under the big lights at Tropicana Field. Until then, the Rays will continue to mold Myers into a hitter that can bolster their lineup and provide them with talent for many years to come. In 19 games with Triple-A Durham this season, Myers is hitting .333 with 14 RBIs and 2 home runs. But those numbers belie the improvements Myers still needs to make both on and off the field. The Rays will keep a keen eye towards Myers and only when they determine he is ready for the major leagues both physically and mentally will he be called up. When will that happen? That’s something that the numbers can’t show, but when it happens, the Rays will know.
The Rays’ utilization of time and patience can make it hard for both players and fans to wait for young talent to get called up. However, time and again the Rays are seeing the rewards of their efforts every night when their team takes the field–even if members of their bright future remain on the field in Triple-A.