Wil Myers offers intriguing first glimpse
FEB 15, 2013 7:46p ET
The past two days, though, have been no time for perspective. Myers’ arrival at Charlotte Sports Park for spring training has given the Tampa Bay Rays a chance to dream about his tantalizing ceiling and, in turn, what it could mean for their future. This has been a sneak preview, a low-stakes handshake under palm trees, and both sides will learn more about the other in the coming weeks.
But consider the present, because it’s filled with interest and intrigue. The Rays’ spring handling of their possible star, the jewel of a six-player trade with the Kansas City Royals in December, is appropriate and wise. During the next six weeks, they will watch, wait, analyze and discover, with no intent to change what has made him a delicious talent.
They will repeat the cycle, perhaps more than once, taking what’s learned and tucking it away for future reference when he does arrive at Tropicana Field for good.
Why rush? Why push the possibilities?
“As a player, I feel I’m major-league ready, but that’s not up to me to decide,” Myers said. “That’s up to the front office.”
Most likely, his delay will continue past Opening Day. The wait has become a major part of his story. Around Kansas City, he’ll be remembered as a torturous "what if?", the celebrated prospect from High Point, N.C., who received a standing ovation during the Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium last July, only to be shipped south in a move that brought right-hander James Shields to the Midwest in a gamble to win now.
Kansas City’s loss is Tampa Bay’s opening. Myers’ comfort in his new home will come in time, but not without calculated planning first from a franchise that has groomed other power hitters like third baseman Evan Longoria. The prospect’s numbers are seductive — He hit .314 with 37 home runs and 109 RBI in time split between Class AA and Class AAA last season — but sound preparation will serve everyone involved best.
Consequently, this is manager Joe Maddon’s spring vision for Myers: That he becomes absorbed into Tampa Bay’s culture, one that has produced three playoff berths since 2008; that he understands there’s no pressure or expectations placed on him in these weeks; and that he impacts the game in the natural way he knows.
So the coming month is a test drive of sorts, a light tap of the gas pedal in what the Rays hope is a long and prosperous relationship with last season’s consensus minor-league player of the year. They plan to nurture the 22-year-old now, push later and await the results of their strategy in seasons ahead.
“I want to observe, and I don’t want to tell him what to do,” Maddon said. “I want him to do what he does naturally well, and we’ll work it from there. There’s no preconceived genius thought from our end that we’re going to impact this guy in any way. Let him go out and impact the game the way he can, and we’ll observe.
“Whenever you get a new guy or a young guy like that, from my perspective, you don’t try to influence anything that he does. I want to see what he does, how he does it. Come in here, walk in the door, don’t feel any weight on your shoulders, and just go play the game. That’s what I want him to do.”
When Maddon watches, there will be plenty to like. He’ll enjoy Myers’ bat speed and wrist and hand mobility. He’ll enjoy the way Myers approaches the game in a simple and cerebral way, a jackpot combination that made him the Royals' No. 1 prospect.
Myers has a versatile baseball mind, as shown by his ability to move to the outfield one year after being drafted as a catcher in 2009. He has the tools and attitude to be great.
Now it’s the Rays’ duty to sharpen his complete profile.
“We’ve said this since the trade: We’re extremely excited to add him to this organization,” Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. “We feel like he’s got a tremendous upside, and were excited to get a chance to know him. It’s one thing to read scouting reports and watch video and talk to guys that have seen him. It’s another to have him in our camp, watch him prepare, watch the way he does things and really hone in on different aspects of his game. We place a great deal of emphasis on the total game.”
Hearing Myers speak this week, it’s obvious he has kept focus on his total game. He has left his talk to the batter’s box, only offering short peeks behind his curtain.
Those moments suggest he's prepared for the spotlight that awaits him. Because the Rays gave up an Ironman starter to gain him — Shields pitched a team-high 227.2 innings last season — Myers will be tracked in a different light. Questions that will follow him are perhaps unfair but inevitable; there will always be some who wonder if his potential was worth sacrificing known value.
Among the responses …
On performing well in front of potential teammates: “This is my first time working out in front of these guys. Right now, I just want to go out and prove what I can do.”
On front-office members watching him: “I didn’t really notice it too much. I didn’t want to take it as added pressure or anything. I just wanted to go out and get my work in.”
On hitting for the first time Thursday: “I had some nerves when I first stepped in. I just wanted to take a couple of good swings to relax a little bit. But I think it went well.”
Those answers mark only a beginning, the first looks at a union that could become great. Myers’ opening days with the Rays, his crack of thunder, did indeed go well.
Now let his journey to normalcy begin.
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at email@example.com.
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