Don't expect Wil Myers to star right away
June, 16, 2013
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
Finally, the torment and distress of the blogging world will be put to rest: Wil Myers is heading to the big leagues.
After hitting .314 with 37 home runs in the minors last year with Kansas City, many believed Tampa Bay's big offseason acquisition should have opened the season with the Rays. But they sent him back to Triple-A for more seasoning; most insisted the Rays were simply looking to save money for the future. By delaying his service time the Rays can push back his arbitration eligibility by a season, potentially saving a few million in the process if Myers develops into a good player.
That net gain, however, possibly resulted in a net loss so far on the field. Luke Scott, Ryan Roberts, Sam Fuld and Shelley Duncan have combined for 447 plate appearances with a .217 average, 10 home runs and -0.2 WAR. Myers wouldn’t have replaced all their playing time, but if he’d been with the Rays since Opening Day and played regularly he would have used up about 275 of the PAs and presumably hit better than replacement level. Not playing Myers may have cost the Rays a win, and that’s being conservative based on his potential production.
Of course, the Rays traditionally are more cautious in promoting their prospects. Yes, they’re pinching pennies, but they also want their players to be major league ready. Remember when David Price pitched out of the bullpen and dominated in the 2008 playoffs? He still made eight Triple-A starts the following season. Desmond Jennings had more than 1,000 plate appearances in Triple-A. When Matt Moore was blowing through Double-A and Triple-A in 2011, the Rays resisted the urge to promote him.
Other organizations hold a different philosophy. The Braves, for example, broke camp with Jason Heyward as their starting right fielder in 2010 even though he had just 50 games above Double-A. Freddie Freeman was the team’s first baseman in 2011 even though he was just 21. Evan Gattis had barely 200 PAs in Double-A last year but has been a huge asset to the big league club.
"We felt like now was the right time," Rays VP Andrew Friedman said of promoting Myers now. "He made some real adjustments in the last six weeks and that really stood out to us. It was something we were monitoring very closely."
Presumably, some of those adjustments, at least in part, included cutting down on his strikeouts. Myers fanned 140 times in the minors last year, striking out in 23.7 percent of his PAs. His strikeout rate has been the same this year -- 24.6 percent -- but has been down to 16 percent in June, during which he has hit .339/.377/.696, after hitting .289 in April and .255 in May.
Whether his improved performance has been the result of adjustments or just riding a hot streak remains to be seen. With the fewer strikeouts have also come fewer walks, so it could be a more aggressive approach at the plate or just better contact. It could just be a 22-year-old kid getting focused after disappointingly being sent down to the minors.
How will Myers do? I can’t answer that question but we can look at some comparable call-ups. Myers was the No. 4 prospect before the season on both Keith Law’s and Baseball America’s top 100 list, so I looked up the before and after results of other top-15 position players prospects who were called up around June 1 in recent seasons. (So the chart below doesn’t include players like Heyward, Freeman, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Travis Snider -- yes, he was a top-10 prospect -- who started the year in the majors or got called up early.)
The reason I wrote above about Myers' strikeouts is because the strikeouts are clearly a concern. In looking at his walk and strikeout rates, the most comparable player for Myers is Pedro Alvarez, and that's probably not the player the Rays and prospect hounds hope Myers will turn into. But they're pretty similar and I can see Myers developing along the Alvarez path as a low-average, high-power guy if he doesn't cut down on his whiffs. Myers is a year younger than when Alvarez reached the majors, so keep in mind he does have a year of growth ahead of him.
As for 2013, six of the 10 players in the chart produced an OPS+ above league average. Carlos Santana actually had the best followed by Buster Posey. Myers' minor league numbers don't compare with theirs, even when you adjust Posey's Pacific Coast League-inflated totals. Again, something like what Alvarez did his rookie season -- .256/.326/.461 -- seems reasonable. That's not great, but it's a lot better than what the Rays have been getting from Luke Scott & Co.
Of course, if the Rays are to improve, it's not Myers they need to rely upon. They need to get Price back and get Jeremy Hellickson figured out and decide whether to ditch Roberto Hernandez. Because if the rotation doesn't improve this team isn't going anywhere, no matter what Myers does.