State of the Rays: Wil Myers gets week of firsts with Rays

A study of Wil Myers’ career is only seven games and six days old, a period neither long enough to draw conclusions nor revealing enough to produce guarantees.

He received his promotion before stepping onto two of the most storied fields the majors can offer: “Welcome to the big stage,” the Tampa Bay Rays seemingly told him, before appearances at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. “Get used to it, because you will deal with this the rest of your career.”

Perhaps, then, it was appropriate that the first glimpses of the 22-year-old prized outfield prospect came with a backdrop of history. His introduction to the majors was a moment when Myers’ past following the game and his future within it intersected, a time when he allowed himself to glance at Fenway Park in pregame stretches before his debut last Tuesday afternoon and think, “I’m in the big leagues. This is awesome.”

How big, how awesome, his presence becomes with the Rays will be, of course, entirely up to him. He comes with great potential, with a stance similar to Evan Longoria’s that will only contribute to the parallels drawn between the two players.

Tampa Bay views Myers as another possible power bat, another potential young phenom who could grow into another Longoria, another Mike Trout, another fascination that could become a household name in future years.

The buildup to Myers’ rise from Triple-A Durham suggested as much.

The images will be recalled for some time, especially if the native of Thomasville, N.C., meets his hype: The postgame announcement June 16, which included infielder Ryan Roberts being optioned to Durham; the flash news conference in manager Joe Maddon’s office, where Maddon and Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations, spoke about the experiment with a sense of possibility; and the reaction throughout the region and beyond, which included snap reaction on the airwaves, social media and elsewhere.

“We’ll try not to place the expectations too high, although I know it’s going to come from outside,” Maddon said June 16. “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.”

There was excitement for him and his franchise. In all, Myers’ week went about as expected for someone who received his first look at the majors. He started slow, even appearing overeager, when he went 1 for 7 during a doubleheader last Tuesday in Boston.

In following days, however, there were times when the game seemed to become more manageable, as if he were back in the batter’s box at Durham Bulls Athletic Park where he enjoyed so much success in his last 23 minor league games, when he hit .354 (34 for 96) with 10 home runs, seven doubles and 32 RBI.

There was a six-game hitting streak from the second game last Tuesday to Sunday, a grand slam off New York Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia on Saturday, a hustle-it-out single off famed Yankees closer Mariano Rivera on Saturday. Myers seemed to grow.

There is more to do, certainly. The first six days of Myers’ Rays career will be recalled this way: He batted .267 (8 for 30) with one home run and six RBI. He conjured nicknames such as “Wil-power” and “Wil the Thrill,” signs of the anticipation that came with his arrival. (By comparison, Jake Odorizzi’s debut with the Rays against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 20 seemed tame.)

“I’m just trying to put that aside right now,” Myers said last Monday. “The game changes once you get to the big leagues. It’s all about winning. I’ve put that aside and just do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Prepare for more buzz, more buildup. The Wil Watch will be observed with interest the rest of this season, the next and beyond. Myers, himself, knows it. He understands the reality he has entered, as he should.

He is in the big leagues. Awesome, indeed.

What’s Hot

James Loney has recovered well since experiencing a recent lull. He has batted .333 (8 for 24) in his last seven games, with three RBI and two walks. He has hit safely in each game since June 19, and his best performance in the stretch came in a 3-for-4 showing against the New York Yankees on Sunday that included two RBI and a walk.

Loney remains one of the Rays’ most effective hitting threats. At .304, he is tied with Evan Longoria for the team’s best batting average. His .362 on-base percentage is third on the team, behind Longoria (.367) and Ben Zobrist (.363). With a .466 slugging percentage, he is one of three players — along with Longoria (.563) and Matt Joyce (.502) — to post a mark of .460 or better in the category.

Loney is hitting .244 for June, a decline from his hot April and May, when he hit .373 and .306, respectively. Still, he is someone opposing pitchers must account for. He has proven that he is someone not to be overlooked in a dangerous part of the Rays’ order

What’s Not

Matt Joyce only has three hits in his last 21 at-bats, a stretch that dates back to the first game of doubleheader in Boston last Tuesday. Before the slump, he hit a respectable .270 and was coming off a stretch where he hit safely in nine consecutive games.  

Joyce has seen his average drop from the season-high .270 to .258. He has hit .247 in June, which is off his .299 pace in May but comparable to his .225 in April.

Clearly, the Rays could use more efficiency from him moving forward as they attempt to climb from the bottom of the American League East. He has produced six RBI this month, a drop from the 17 he had in May. But again, the total is comparable to the eight he posted in April.

Quotes of the week

“It was awesome. First time in the big leagues was really cool. I tried to soak it in a little bit. It was a very cool experience.”

— Right-fielder Wil Myers to reporters, after making his major league debut in a 5-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox last Tuesday at Fenway Park. He went 0 for 4 and struck out once in the first game of a day-night doubleheader that included a two-hour, 59-minute rain delay.

“It was good to have that feeling back, because I hadn’t had it in awhile. So I just came out there. Being competitive, that’s what you want to do.”

— Left-hander David Price to reporters, after making his first minor league rehab start for the Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs last Friday against the Bradenton Marauders, a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate. In 2 1/3 innings in Bradenton, Price threw 49 pitches (29 strikes) and struck out four while allowing two hits, two runs (one earned) and two walks.

“We saw Wil-power today, but nine walks by our pitchers was too much to overcome.”

— Manager Joe Maddon in a tweet last Saturday, referencing Myers’ first career major league home run, a grand slam off New York Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia in the sixth inning to give the Rays a 5-3 lead. Tampa Bay went on to lose 7-5.  

Numbers game

5: Starts left-hander Matt Moore went without a victory before leading the Rays to an 8-3 win over the New York Yankees last Thursday at Yankee Stadium to improve to 9-3 in 15 appearances. He threw 6 1/3 innings and struck out four while giving up three runs, four hits and three walks.

4: Teams outside the American League East above .500 after play Sunday. All five AL East teams own records better than .500, with the Boston Red Sox (45-33) holding a two-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles for the division lead.

16: Games, out of 20, the Rays will play at Tropicana Field before the All-Star Break in mid-July. The stretch includes series against the Toronto Blue Jays (June 24-26), Detroit Tigers (June 28-30), Chicago White Sox (July 5-7), Minnesota Twins (July 8-11) and Houston Astros (July 12-14).

Tweet of the week

The week of Wil Myers included quite the introduction. Visits to Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium are something the 22-year-old will not forget any time soon, and if his career evolves into one of the best the Rays have seen, his opening games in the majors will be remembered with “Remember when?” and “Where were you?” nostalgia.

There is a fleeting power that comes with first-time feelings that cannot be reproduced, and Myers lived his within some of the largest spotlights possible.  

Still, this week will present more firsts for him. He will make his home debut Monday night at Tropicana Field against the streaking Toronto Blue Jays.

Finally, the whispers and social media buzz have given way to in-the-flesh visions of seeing Myers work. He is no longer potential or possibility. He is here. Yes, he has seven games in the majors to his credit after the Northeast swing.

But for the first time, he will play in his new stadium, before a fan base eager for his promotion since he joined the Rays’ system last December. Welcome home.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford

or email him at