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Wednesday, June 19, 2013
What can we expect from Wil Myers?

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

In 24 hours' time, we've ridden the Wil Myers rollercoaster; from the excitement and anticipation of his Tuesday major league debut to disappointment in his 1-for-7, 0-extra base hit, 2-strikeout performance in said doubleheader.

Hit Parade

Myers' debut might not have produced the results that New York Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler's did, but interest in his long-term prospects remains high. He is the second-most added player, behind Wheeler, in ESPN leagues the past week. He is now owned in a whopping 95.3 percent of leagues.

Fantasy owners evidently aren't -- and shouldn't be -- reading too much into his Tuesday numbers. Baseball history shows us that debut dandies, at least on the hitting side, are notoriously hit-or-miss. Consider:

J.P. Arencibia, Bert Campaneris, Bob Nieman, Mark Quinn and Charlie Reilly are the only five players to manage as many as two home runs in a debut.
• Besides those five, Ed Freed, Kazuo Matsui, Willie McCovey and Craig Wilson are the only players to manage eight total bases in their debuts.
• Campaneris, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin McReynolds, Trent Oeltjen, Jose Offerman and Ben Steiner, meanwhile, are the only six players to manage a "combo meal" -- as defined on the Fantasy Focus podcast as a home run and stolen base in the same game -- in their debuts.

That's quite a potpourri of names, as while McCovey is in the Hall of Fame, none of the others got even close. Keep that in mind if you're making decisions about future prospects in their big-league debuts; a dart board gives you comparable odds in predicting such instant success.

But let's get back to the topic of Myers' long-term prospects. Examining baseball history once more -- or at least games since 1916, the first season for which game-by-game data is available on Baseball-Reference.com -- we find that even the greatest performances during the first 25 games of a career result in a hodgepodge of players. Take a look:

• Zeke Bonura, Chris Davis, Kevin Maas and George Scott each hit 10 home runs, the most by any player in his first 25 games.
• Mandy Brooks (34) and Jim Greengrass (30) are the only players to manage at least 30 RBIs.
• Brooks (85), Joe DiMaggio (79) and Scott (73) are the only players with at least 70 total bases.

Again, we've got a Hall of Famer (DiMaggio), and in this case a very good player (Scott), and then there's Davis, who this season is on a similar run to the one he enjoyed in his first 25 career games. Still, it appears that a dart board might give you similar odds, though in this case let's say with a little practice required.

Wil Myers
While fantasy owners are snapping up Wil Myers pretty quickly, it may be best to temper expectations for the short-term.

All of this, though, ignores one critical fact: Myers was widely regarded one of the top prospects in baseball, forecasted a future MVP candidate at the time of his December trade to the Tampa Bay Rays in the James Shields deal. Myers was Keith Law's No. 4 prospect this preseason, No. 7 during his May rankings update.

Knowing that a player is destined for greatness, might the odds of forecasting instant success increase? After all, we might all feel as if that's true, having watched Mike Trout, Law's top prospect entering both 2011 and 2012, enjoy arguably the greatest season by any rookie in the history of baseball in 2012.

To find out the answer, I examined the careers to date of all of Law's top 25-ranked hitters since 2008, his first published list on ESPN. As these would presumably be the most sought-after prospects in fantasy leagues, these seemed like a fair sample size from which to pull data. In all, 93 different players earned said rankings during that six-year span; remember that some players made multiple appearances (Trout the most notable example).

Six prospects, among those in the 2008-10 lists, haven't even debuted yet in the majors:
Tim Beckham (No. 6 hitter, 11 overall, in 2009)
Travis d'Arnaud (No. 4 hitter, 6 overall, in 2012)
Jaff Decker (No. 15 hitter, 27 overall, in 2010): He was recalled by the San Diego Padres on June 12, but was returned to Triple-A two days later.
Angel Villalona (No. 13 hitter, 20 overall, in 2008)
Ryan Westmoreland (No. 19 hitter, 32 overall, in 2010)

Seventeen prospects have reached the major leagues, but appear destined for disappointing big-league careers:
Lars Anderson (No. 4 hitter, 7 overall, in 2009)
Daric Barton (No. 25 hitter, 38 overall, in 2008)
Gordon Beckham (No. 24 hitter, 36 overall, in 2009)
Lonnie Chisenhall (No. 14 hitter, 26 overall, in 2010)
Dee Gordon (No. 23 hitter, 39 overall, in 2010)
Matt LaPorta (No. 18 hitter, 27 overall, in 2009)
Andy LaRoche (No. 16 hitter, 25 overall, in 2008)
Fernando Martinez (No. 5 hitter, 10 overall, in 2008)
Jordan Schafer (No. 17 hitter, 27 overall, in 2008)
Justin Smoak (No. 7 hitter, 9 overall, in 2010)
Travis Snider (No. 3 hitter, 5 overall, in 2009)
Jose Tabata (No. 14 hitter, 21 overall, in 2008)
Michael Taylor (No. 13 hitter, 24 overall, in 2010)
Carlos Triunfel (No. 11 hitter, 18 overall, in 2008)
Josh Vitters (No. 9 hitter, 14 overall, in 2009)
Brett Wallace (No. 11 hitter, 20 overall, in 2010)
Brandon Wood (No. 22 hitter, 34 overall, in 2008)

The jury is still out on another 15 prospects:
Dustin Ackley (No. 6 hitter, 7 overall, in 2011)
Jackie Bradley Jr. (No. 25 hitter, 40 overall, in 2013)
Aaron Hicks (No. 8 hitter, 10 overall, in 2011)
Eric Hosmer (No. 5 hitter, 5 overall, in 2011)
Jose Iglesias (No. 22 hitter, 45 overall, in 2011)
Cameron Maybin (No. 8 hitter, 13 overall, in 2008)
Devin Mesoraco (No. 6 hitter, 8 overall, in 2012)
Jesus Montero (No. 4 hitter, 4 overall, in 2011)
Logan Morrison (No. 12 hitter, 21 overall, n 2010)
Mike Moustakas (No. 11 hitter, 23 overall, in 2011)
Derek Norris (No. 16 hitter, 33 overall, in 2011)
Jurickson Profar (No. 1 hitter, 1 overall, in 2013)
Wilson Ramos (No. 25 hitter, 42 overall, in 2010)
Anthony Rendon (No. 11 hitter, 17 overall, in 2013)
Mike Zunino (No. 10 hitter, 15 overall, in 2013)

It's also far too soon to pass judgment on 17 members of the 2013 prospect class, nine from 2012 and two from 2011.

That leaves 27 players who "made it" -- that being defined as having fantasy significance in any season since -- which shows how difficult the conversion from prospect status to big-league stardom. (As an aside, that exemplifies how special a player Mike Trout is.) Eighteen of them ranked among the 43 players on Law's lists from 2008-10; that represents 42 percent who became successful big leaguers.

Here's how the overall group performed during each of their first calendar years in the big leagues -- meaning Trout's numbers from July 8, 2011, the date of his debut, through July 7, 2012, as one example -- comparative to the major league average rookie hitter since the beginning of the 2008 season:

Clearly this bunch possesses greater odds of instant success than the average rookie, which is why adding the Myers, Profars and Rendons of the baseball world makes sense in all fantasy leagues. You're taking out lottery tickets, but based upon scouts' forecasts, ones with greater odds than those of your typical freshman.

However, these "successes" were also a mishmash of early-career triumphs and failures. Trout himself illustrates this: He managed .220/.281/.390 triple-slash rates in 40 games of his first big-league stint in 2011, then .354/.412/.565 rates in his first 40 games following his next promotion in 2012. Let's break down these prospects' career performances into 25-game chunks, to determine whether there's any type of "learning curve" for this group as a whole:

Judging by these numbers, hitting prospects endure a vastly different growth curve than pitching prospects: They tend to struggle early, and if they survive said initial struggles, they hit better from their 26th games forward, peaking during their 101st through 150th games (those sometimes coming during their second big-league seasons). In particular, their plate-discipline numbers -- those strikeout and walk rates -- are at their worst in their first 25 career contests.

This is something to keep in mind with Myers, who despite a .300 career minor league batting average looks much more like a high-strikeout, low-average, big-power type. He whiffed in 23.2 percent of his plate appearances at the Triple-A level, which helps explain why, in the preseason, we projected him to hit only .262.

Myers might scuffle initially, as Trout did, but he has something in his favor that Trout didn't: The patience of his big-league team, which lacks the outfield depth Trout's Los Angeles Angels did then, meaning that he's much more likely to stick around for the long haul. Myers' fantasy owners must be patient; he's the kind of player who could hit 15 homers the rest of the way, but it's not unthinkable that all 15 might come in the season's final three months, once he's fully adjusted.

This is a lesson fantasy owners should also bear in mind with other top-ranked prospects from Law's list, who might debut in 2013:

Oscar Taveras, St. Louis Cardinals (No. 3 hitter)
Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox (No. 4)
Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins (No. 5)
Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds (No. 16)
Travis d'Arnaud, New York Mets (No. 4 hitter in 2012)
Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers (No. 17 hitter in 2012)
Jonathan Singleton, Houston Astros (No. 13 hitter in 2011)

The upshot is that any top prospect is worth the pickup, a "cycling of lottery tickets," if you will, hoping that one will finally stick.

But consider how patient both you and his big-league team can be with each prospect. Can you afford to sit through potentially a month's adjustment time? Some might warrant it; and those -- Myers and Taveras fall into this group, as do Yelich and Castellanos to lesser degrees -- are the ones you want.