ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Promotion was going to happen soon. That much was known. Rays prized outfield prospect Wil Myers’ recent numbers were too good with Triple-A Durham — a .354 batting average (34-for-96) with 10 home runs and 32 RBI in his last 23 games — for him not to receive The Call.
He was a jewel-in-waiting, a fascination since the blockbuster seven-player trade with the Kansas City Royals last December, someone who was always a “when” instead of an “if.” Now, the wait is over. The real challenge begins.
After the end of a 4-6 homestand Sunday, which closed with a fifth loss to the Royals in six games this season, the Rays stopped one Wil Watch and started another. Months of hype, Twitter rumors and when-will-they chatter closed with these simple opening lines in a team release:
“The Tampa Bay Rays are expected to select outfielder Wil Myers from Durham (AAA) Tuesday. He will join the team in Boston for the three-game series beginning Tuesday against the Red Sox. He will wear No. 9.”
“It’s something that we’ve been deliberating for a while,” said Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations, who added that infielder Ryan Roberts will be optioned to Durham to make room for Myers. “His recent hot streak certainly accelerated the conversations. As we talked about in spring training, when we felt like he was ready, it was important to auger out a spot for him. And so over the last week, we spent a lot more time thinking about it, talking about it.”
Thinking and talking turned to action Sunday. Clearly, Friedman and Rays manager Joe Maddon consider Myers ready. The prospect recovered well from a slow start to his time in Durham, where he hit .286 (72 of 252) with 14 home runs, 13 doubles, 29 walks and 57 RBI in 64 games.
Myers showed an ability to evolve. He struggled. He adapted. He earned a few scars along the way. The Rays have rewarded him for it, even if his promotion may seem somewhat early to some.
But responsibility comes with his arrival, both for him and the Rays. He entered the system with the reputation: The No. 1 prospect, “Best Power Hitter” and “Best Hitter for Average” in the Rays’ system, as voted by Baseball America; the No. 4 prospect in the minors, as voted by MLB.com; and someone who was offered a revealing glimpse for Maddon and Friedman in spring training. He remains an intrigue.
Yet Myers arrives with a need for caution. He cannot be rushed. He must be transitioned well. He is potential. But at 22 years old, he is unrefined.
Bottom line: Myers is a piece of the future. He is not The Answer.
“We’ll try not to place the expectations too high, although I know it’s going to come from outside,” Maddon said. “It’s not going to come from within. He’s another one of our players. We’re going to try to ease him into the whole thing. I don’t think it matters if he starts in Boston or New York or Tampa Bay. It’s just good to get him out there. Obviously, I think he’ll be very excited about it.”
Excitement always has been part of the Myers package. It was seen last summer during the Futures Game in Kansas City, where he received a standing ovation at Kauffman Stadium. He has prepped for this moment throughout four-plus years in the minors.
Still, some questions can only be answered when he plays under major league lights for the first time. He will be watched in a different way than, say, right-hander Jake Odorizzi, who also was part of the trade with Kansas City. Some will compare his progress to the arc lived by three-time All-Star Evan Longoria. Some will expect strong results immediately. Some will expect production to match his hype.
The Rays, of course, have considered this. That is why Maddon plans to slot Myers lower in the batting order to ease early pressure. They are confident his improved defensive skills in right field and ability to drive the ball against right-handed pitching will make him a valuable addition in their “one of nine” vision for him.
They want him to grow. They want him to progress at a comfortable pace.
“I think him having the recent success he’s had … will just aid in him being able to come up here and exhale,” Friedman said.
In many ways, that is what Myers’ promotion represents: An exhale from the buzz in recent weeks, a movement from the possible to the tangible, a transition from the “When?” to the “What now?”
Certainly, it is a significant moment. Parting ways with right-hander James Shields, a tie to the Devil Rays Era, for (largely) Myers last winter was a sign that Tampa Bay was willing to trade a workhorse for a chance to wonder.
How far can Myers go? Just how good will he become?