As top prospects arrive, question for Rays is: When is Wil Myers coming to the Show?
On Tuesday night, Wil Myers homered for the third time in four games and the ninth time in his past 19 games. That would be great news for the Rays — if he were doing it for them. Instead the 2012 Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year is still toiling for the team's Triple-A Durham affiliate, and it's not clear how soon he'll reach the majors.
Back in December, the Rays acquired the 22-year-old Myers from the Royals in the winter's most controversial deal, a six-player blockbuster that sent pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City. From the outset, it appeared likely that Myers' budget-minded new employers would wait to promote the slugging outfielder so as to prevent him accruing enough service time this year to become a "Super Two" -- a player eligible for arbitration, and thus his first big raise, before he had completed three major league seasons. The savings for a small-market team such as the Rays is hardly trivial, with the Tampa Bay Times' Mark Topkin recently citing an industry estimate of $10 million in Myers' case. Teammate David Price is a Super Two who made $4.35 million last year, his first year of eligibility, and is making $10.1125 million this year. Put two more rounds of raises on top of that and you have a player whom few believe will still be in Tampa Bay by the end of his eligiblity.
Per the most recent collective bargaining agreement, the top 22 percent of players with between two and three years of service time (up from 17 percent in the previous CBA) reach Super Two status every winter, though pinning down the exact date is tricky because teams do make decisions around it, affecting the number of players in the pool. With regards to Mets pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, who's said to be arriving next week, ESPN's Adam Rubin received estimates from front office executives calling mid-to-late June "usually safe," with June 11 "mostly safe" and June 20 "super safe."
Thus it appears to be About That Time, and for confirmation, it's worth noting that Tuesday marked not only the callup of the Pirates' Gerrit Cole but also the Mariners' Mike Zuninio, the third pick of last year's draft. Wheeler appears likely to debut on June 18, when the Mets have a doubleheader with the Braves. As for Myers, on June 8, former Reds and Nationals general manager and current Sirius/XM radio host Jim Bowden estimated via Twitter that the promotion "should happen within the next 10 days."
After a 2011 season in which he was hampered by a knee laceration while adjusting to a position change from catcher to outfield, Myers broke out in 2012, hitting .314/.387/.600 with 37 homers split between the Royals’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates; in the Pacific Coast League, he was the second-youngest regular at 21. Perhaps because he battled minor wrist and foot injuries earlier this spring, as of May 21, he was hitting a measly .244/.341/.372 with four homers in 185 plate appearances. He's caught fire since then — .358/.393/.790 with nine homers in 89 plate appearances, not to mention five steals — lifting his overall line to a respectable .283/.358/.515. After early concerns about his ability to hit upper-level righties, he's up to .270/.349/.486 in 212 PA against them.
Financial concerns aside, the major sticking point with regards to his promotion is that the Rays' need isn't so obvious at the moment. Their offense, which ranked 11th in the league last year at 4.30 runs per game, is currently third at 5.02 per game, a number all the more impressive given the pitcher-friendliness of Tropicana Field. The team is getting reasonably strong production from Matt Joyce (.258/.343/.500 while playing both outfield corner spots), Ben Zobrist (.274/.365/.402 splitting time between second base and rightfield) and Kelly Johnson (.257/.321/.471 with 10 homers while playing mostly leftfield). The weak link is designated hitter Luke Scott (.215/.320/.336), but Tampa Bay appears reluctant to mothball a player making $2.75 million, slightly more than Johnson or Joyce. Though he's 35 years old, Scott does actually have a minor league option remaining, but as a player with five years of service time, he has to consent to being sent down, and could opt for free agency instead. Ignoring the small-sample-driven weirdness via which the lefty-swinging Scott is for once hitting lefties well but flailing against righties, the righty-swinging Myers could fit into a DH platoon. But if the Rays were to risk Super Two status for Myers, it would almost certainly not be to bring him up as a part-timer. Thus it looks like he's still at least a week away — towards the outer edge of the Super Two cutoff — from being promoted, and perhaps longer. Without an injury or other obvious roster move, he'll be — to paraphrase Bob Dylan — stuck inside the minors with the Durham blues again.