Wil Myers is front and center
Hard-hitting right fielder Wil Myers is the next great Royals hope
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The more baseballs Wil Myers hits over the fence for Kansas City's Triple-A team in Omaha, the more his name keeps popping up in speculation as Major League Baseball's next hyperventilation-worthy call-up. And the more speculation Myers hears, the harder it is to contain his excitement over knowing the biggest moment of his life is fast approaching.
If the thought resonates when Myers is facing pitching staffs in Oklahoma City or Des Moines, it hits even closer to home when he's at All-Star Game FanFest and his autograph lines surpass the ones for Andre Dawson, Lou Brock and other Hall of Famers in attendance. Myers' pulse rate quickened even more Sunday afternoon when he walked into the Kauffman Stadium home clubhouse in preparation for the All-Star Futures Game. His locker stall was big enough to house Reggie Jackson's ego, a couple of Molina brothers and the combined press clippings of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.
"I'd be lying if I told you I haven't thought about a call-up every single day," Myers said. "Could this be the last day in the minor leagues for me? But right now I just want to have my overall game get better every day."
After several years of hearing about the abundant talent in the Royals' system, Kansas City fans would prefer a little less gushing and some more gratification. The Royals dropped to 37-47 with a 7-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, and appear to be a lock for their ninth straight losing season.
Myers experienced the thrill of playing all nine innings in Team USA's 17-5 blowout win over the World Team in the 14th Futures Game. A sellout crowd of 40,095 gave him a standing ovation before his first at-bat, and greeted him warmly with each subsequent trip to the plate. Myers singled twice, contributed a sacrifice fly, drove in three runs, accidentally broke an ESPN camera with a foul ball back to the screen and gave the deep green background in center field his personal seal of approval.
"The hitters' eye is great here," Myers said. "The ball looks huge coming in."
Myers, 21, is fortunate to have friends in high places. When George Brett wasn't hosting the charity 5K Fun Run and playing in the celebrity softball game Sunday in his capacity as MLB's resident All-Star Game ambassador, he was making out the lineup card for Team USA. Brett named Royals prospect Jake Odorizzi as his starting pitcher, and decreed from the outset that Myers would go the distance in right field and center.
"Since I'm the manager, the game is in Kansas City and Wil Myers is Kansas City Royals property, Wil is going to get to show off a little bit," Brett said. "The people here have heard so much about him, I think he's earned the right to play nine innings."
Myers is no charity case. His 27 home runs in two stops this year tie him for the minor league lead with 34-year-old journeyman Mike Hessman, who has gone deep 27 times for Houston's Triple-A farm club in Oklahoma City. Myers also ranks fourth among minor leaguers with 72 RBIs and eighth with a .676 slugging percentage.
The Royals knew Myers was capable of this when they drafted him as a catcher in the third round in 2009 and gave him a $2 million signing bonus to dissuade him from going to the University of South Carolina. But Myers has encountered a bump or two in his trek through the minors. He never quite warmed to the idea of squatting behind home plate for a living, and he was eventually bypassed by Salvador Perez as the Royals' catcher of the future. And he got a dose of humble in 2011 when he hit .254 with a .745 OPS for Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
After a positive experience in the Arizona Fall League, Myers went home to North Carolina last winter and ramped up his offseason workout regimen. "I didn't fool around like the year before," he said. "That led to a bad year, and I wanted to work hard and get better."
Myers has the bat speed to wait on balls and the strength to drive them the opposite way to right center. As he effortlessly hit bombs during Futures Game batting practice, a National League scout looked on admiringly from the 200 section at Kauffman Stadium.
"He's got a fluid swing, and the ball just jumps off his bat," the scout said. "It looks like he's hitting a golf ball."
The Royals think Myers has the skills to be a well-above-average right fielder and an adequate center fielder. His reads and routes to the ball are fine, but he lacks the prototypical closing speed for center field, and he could be exposed over time in the spacious outfield expanse at Kauffman Stadium.
Brett has been around for all the prospect-related hype in recent years. He saw it with Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, then Hosmer and Moustakas, and now he's witnessing it with Myers and Odorizzi. When a franchise keeps losing, there's nothing like some fresh blood to keep the fan base engaged.
And if expectations are excessive? That's part of the drill.
"It's not fair, but life is not fair," Brett said. "Nobody was aware of George Brett when I was playing in Billings [Mont.] in 1971, and nobody cared what I did playing for the San Jose Bees in 1972. Now you have the social media and all the things going on out there on the Internet. Twitter. Tweeter. Twooter."
Brett defers to Royals general manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost on Myers' arrival date. But once the kid makes it to Kansas City, the greatest player in franchise history expects him to be around for a long time.
"I don't want to say he's the total package," Brett said. "But he has a chance to be a really good Major League Baseball player."
The next stop on Myers' agenda is the Triple-A All-Star Game at Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo on Wednesday. For baseball's newest hot commodity, it's just another stop and another memory on the road to bigger and better things.