Myers remains patient in Omaha
PAPILLION, Neb. — Wil Myers shrugs. The conversation turns to the idea of him spending the rest of 2012 in Omaha, and maybe the year after that, even though he's crushing the Pacific Coast League the way Godzilla crushes trailer parks.
To this, the center fielder smiles. He'll turn 22 in December; there are worse fates.
"Yeah, it's fine," the Kansas City Royals' slugging phenom tells FOXSports.com. "And to be honest, I want to feel like I earn my promotion. In September, (when) they call a bunch of guys up, I really want to feel like I earn a promotion up there.
"It's one of those things where I'll get to the big leagues when I get to the big leagues. I feel very confident in the player I am. So when the Royals are ready, that's when it will be."
In the meantime, Myers waits. And rakes. As of Wednesday night, the franchise's third-round draft pick from 2009 had racked up 122 at bats with the Triple-A Storm Chasers, hitting .328 with 11 home runs, 32 RBI, a slugging percentage of .689 and an OPS of 1.107. Through 68 games in Double-A and Triple-A in 2012, the North Carolina native has launched 24 long balls — one more than Cubs wunderkind Anthony Rizzo — knocked in 62 and slugged at a .711 clip.
"Ooh," gushes Royals catcher Salvador Perez, who's rehabbing in Omaha. "It's unbelievable to see a guy hit like that. It's impressive. He's on fire right now. He sees everything, every pitch. He's got quick hands. I think he'll be ready soon for the big leagues."
How soon is the question. Right fielder Jeff Francoeur is signed through 2013; Lorenzo Cain got hurt before anyone could really see what he could do in a full season as the everyday center fielder. There are also long-term arbitration considerations, given the "Super Two" status that's been afforded to some young players as part of the current collective-bargaining agreement.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore indicated earlier this month that the club's preference is to keep Myers in the minors through the rest of this year, and possibly the early part of the next. Meanwhile, Myers' torrid start has fans salivating at the possibility of adding his stick to a lineup that's already anchored by Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.
"I mean, he's in a class of his own right now," is how Omaha hitting coach and former big-leaguer Tommy Gregg describes it.
You press for parallels, a comparison that puts the 6-foot-3 center fielder in a layman's perspective. During his salad days, Gregg played with Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke, David Justice, Barry Larkin, and Kevin Mitchell. He knows, as well as anyone, what rarefied air is supposed to smell like.
"I was going to say, like, Dale Murphy," Gregg replies, "because he (also) made the switch from catcher to center field. (Myers) has the same quick hands and (is) slender but strong. Golly, I mean, same thing with Wil. He's just some kind of strong."
The wrists snap quickly, like a snake striking a mouse. Myers doesn't wear batting gloves, but try to bust him inside, and he'll shoot one up the left-field line, as veteran hurler Roy Oswalt found out a few weeks ago when the big guy rocked him for a grand slam.
Work Myers outside? "He hit two balls out in Nashville with the wind kind of blowing in from right," Gregg recalls. "The ball just jumps off his bat when he makes solid contact.
"The thing about Wil is, nothing fazes him. He's the kind of kid where he's not intimidated by anybody or anything. (Not) the situation, the media attention, the pitcher on the mound — he's not fazed by anything. He goes up with the same mental approach when he steps in the box, it doesn't matter who's pitching."
See, deep down, Wil Myers hates pitchers. OK, so that's not exactly true. But he does hate tipping his cap. Tipping your cap is acknowledging defeat. Myers isn't into defeat.
"Obviously, there's a lot of good arms out there, but for me, I don't give pitchers any credit," Myers says. "I feel like none of them are good. Because you can't feel like pitchers are good up there.
"I remember last year, in 2011, at (Double-A Northwest) Arkansas, I thought every pitcher was great. I was like, 'God, this guy's good, you know, what's he going to throw here?' So now, it doesn't matter who's throwing. I just feel like I'm going to get a hit, no matter what he throws. It's one of those things — you've got to leave it on the field, obviously — but when I'm going well, and I really feel like I'm extremely cocky when I'm in the box."
Last summer, he'd lost the cocky, lost the mojo. Myers was moved from catcher to the outfield, a freak accident led to an infection in his knee, and he never really got going. The right-hander wound up appearing in only 99 games at Northwest Arkansas, hitting .254 with eight home runs.
"In 2011, I honestly thought that I was done," Myers says. "I thought I'd reached my peak, you know, I couldn't do anything else. (I thought), 'This is as good as I'll ever play. This will be the highest level I will ever play.'"
Once the knee got right, the next step was rebuilding the mindset, one brick at a time. Over the winter, Myers went back home to North Carolina and picked the brain of old pal Mo Blakeney, a mentor and former Montreal Expos farmhand.
"He's like, 'Dude, the biggest thing for you is confidence,'" Myers says. " 'You know, when I saw you when you were younger, you were one of the most confident hitters I've ever seen.' So, for me, hitting is 99 percent mental. Seriously. One percent mechanical. I can go up there and stand on my head. If I feel like I'm going to get a hit, I'm going to hit something hard."
He's swinging more eagerly, too, much to the chagrin of the bloggers who fret about how declining walk numbers will translate in The Show. In 2010, Myers drew a base on balls once every 6.36 plate appearances. In 2011, it was one in every eight. This year, it's been one in every nine.
"My first season and (in) the (Arizona) Fall League, I was more patient, and I wanted to work deep in counts," Myers explains. "I found out here, when you get a pitcher's count, you're not going to get anything good to hit. So, for me, I like to jump on something early, stay out of pitchers' counts, just kind of look for something over the plate."
Trouble is, those somethings have proven harder to come by as the weeks have worn on. The book on Myers is getting passed around the PCL, and it's a quick, uncomfortable read.
"Pitchers here know that if they make a mistake with Wil, they're going to pay for it," Gregg says. "So they're either way more focused when he's hitting or they're trying to hit the corner and pitch around him and he gets a little more anxious.
"But he doesn't let things linger. That's what I love about him. It's a new day. It's what I call 'Groundhog Day' as a hitter. Every day is Groundhog Day. You kind of forget what happened yesterday and you continue to do the same thing the next day, and you step in the box and it's a new day."
The days are long and breezy at Omaha's Werner Park, an oasis in the city's southwestern suburbs surrounded by undeveloped land and wobbly hills roughly four miles from Interstate 80. Because there are few buildings within a mile of the place, Werner often feels like a wind tunnel, even on a calm day. The breeze during Tuesday night's game with Memphis reached speeds of 33 mph. Throw in the occasional swirls, and playing center field becomes something of an adventure.
"I love it," Myers says. "It's definitely my favorite position. . . . You can cut off a ball in the gap, hold a runner at first, you've saved a run there. It really feels like you're contributing more than just hitting (when you're) in center field."
Said second baseman Johnny Giavotella: "You can't even notice that he hasn't had much experience (in the outfield) because he's played pretty fluid out there. He knows where to throw the ball (in terms) of bases, gets good reads, and is just a great player for us."
Added Gregg: "I think you could put him anywhere you wanted to. He's such a good athlete."
As good as a Hosmer or a Moustakas?
"He's right there with both those guys, no doubt," Gregg replies. "It's just a matter of when (the Royals) have a need for him.
"Is he ready? I don't know. Sure. You know, he could go up there and probably do the same thing he's doing here. But it's just all a matter of the need, when they need him."
Until then, the legend grows. The Storm Chasers' merchandise shop ordered 72 T-shirts with Myers' No. 8 on the back to sell during a home stand that began on May 29 and ended on June 5. By the end of that stretch, there were only 13 shirts left. Ooh, indeed.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org