With Rays, not as much pressure on Wil Myers

When will Wil Myers make his regular-season debut in Tampa Bay? The Rays can afford to wait.

TAMPA, Fla. — This dance has only begun. It will be more tango than waltz, more salsa than slow step. It will be a tease that tickles the imagination, seducing hearts and minds of seamheads on both sides of the bay. 

Let’s be frank: It’s not a matter of “if.” It’s a question of the juicy “when.”

When will Wil Myers, the jewel of the Tampa Bay Rays’ haul in a six-player December trade with the Kansas City Royals, make his major-league debut? When will Myers, the 22-year-old comet whom scouts have likened to former two-time National League MVP Dale Murphy, be scribbled into manager Joe Maddon’s lineup? When will Myers, the outfield prospect who cracked 37 home runs with a .314 average and a .387 on-base percentage last season to become a poker chip for his former franchise, dig into Tropicana Field’s batter’s box for the first time? 

When will his wait be over? 

Be prepared to kick your heels a little longer. The Thomasville, N.C., native said all the right things at the Rays’ Winter Development Camp on Jan. 15 in St. Petersburg, Fla., part of a first visit to his future digs. 

He talked about how his progression is a front-office decision. (He has taken cuts at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, home of Class AAA Durham, located about 75 miles from his home.) He talked about how he understood the trade is part of baseball business. He talked about how each player’s dream is to make the major leagues, and that’s where he soon envisions himself to be. 

Ah, but Wil, how long until that happens? And how will you look once you arrive?
“There’s less pressure on him in Tampa Bay than there would be in Kansas City,” said Jim Callis, executive editor of Baseball America, a leading magazine that includes a focus on young prospects. “In Kansas City, he’d been seen as one of the guys who’s supposed to be a savior of the franchise. Where in Tampa Bay – there’s some pressure when you get traded for (pitchers) James Shields and Wade Davis; obviously, he came at a high cost – but at the same time, it’s not like anybody’s going to be saying, ‘Hey, we need Wil Myers to hit 25 homers as a rookie if we’re going to have any chance.’ He’ll be a key cog, but they’ve got (third baseman) Evan Longoria. They’ve got (pitcher) David Price. They’re not asking Wil Myers to be the star of the team.” 

This is why it will be fascinating to track Myers in the near future. He left a situation in Kansas City’s system where, upon his call-up, he would have been asked to soar from a phone booth with a cape and a million-dollar smile. 

His legend grew in the three years since being drafted in the third round from Wesleyan Christian (N.C.) Academy. It became more than normal, more than contained. He would have become LeBron James, circa Cleveland, in cleats. He would have become as much a part of Kansas City as Arthur Bryant’s burnt ends. (He received a standing ovation at the Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium last July, for goodness sakes.)

Meanwhile, he’ll be given a chance to be super on his own terms at Tampa Bay. This will be a different pace. It will be more Tour de France than Indianapolis 500. 

Here, there’s no baggage. Here, there’s no weight that comes with being the guy groomed to redirect a losing franchise. Here, his bat won’t be tied to two-ton bricks of expectation.

Certainly, the consensus minor-league player of the year will be an intrigue in his new galaxy. But he’ll be far from the brightest star. He’ll hold promise, but he won’t be pressured to produce right away. 

“If all goes well, he's probably a borderline All-Star most years,” R.J. Anderson, a transactions analyst for Baseball Prospectus, wrote in an email. “He's got the ability to hit for average, power and draw walks, which is about all you can ask from any hitter. His approach is real mature, almost bordering on passive up there because he just doesn't swing at bad pitches. His hands are just unreal; he can hit a fastball, he can adjust to a breaking ball, whatever. That's the best asset Myers has and guys like Longoria, etc. have. If you've got good hands and some idea at the plate, you should be a good hitter.”

“I tried digging up dirt on the guy, to figure out if Kansas City was selling a rotten potato, but there's little out there,” Anderson continued. “There were athleticism concerns (baserunning and fielding, he's an average-ish runner now), a longish swing on occasion, etc., is about it. Minor stuff, really. His makeup has gotten praised — he takes extra batting practice and worked hard to stick at catcher and to pick up the other positions they've asked of him. Basically, he's about as good a bet as any prospect in the system to contribute at the big-league level. Unless there's a well-hidden skeleton in his closet, it's hard to see him busting.”

So as we continue to watch and wait, it’s hard to keep the wonder in check. Myers’ clock is ticking. His time at Tropicana Field will come, if not to start the season, perhaps soon after. 

This is about “when,” not “if.” Enjoy the countdown. Enjoy the dance. 

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.

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