Burning Questions: Is Wil Myers MLB's next rookie sensation?
It was the fifth and deciding game in the first-round playoff series between the Omaha Storm Chasers and Albuquerque Isotopes. The winner would move on to the Pacific Coast League Championship, one step away from the Triple-A Championship Series against the winner of the International League. It had been a high-scoring series to that point, but Wil Myers, Omaha's star center fielder, had been unusually quiet. Myers would shortly be named the Minor League Player of the Year, but he wasn't exactly putting a bow on a season befitting the best minor leaguer in the land. After going 2-for-2 with a three-run homer and two walks in Omaha's Game 1 win, Myers had gone 0-for-12 with four strikeouts in the next three games.
The Storm Chasers had jumped out to a 4-0 lead by time Myers took his second at-bat of Game 5, in the second inning. With Irving Falu on first base, Myers blasted a home run to left field, effectively ending the game and potentially presaging playoff heroics to come in Kansas City, a city desperate for October baseball. After struggling through 30 years of ignominy, the Royals were finally cashing in on all those high draft picks by building one of the league's best young offenses. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler were All-Stars in 2012. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas made their way to The Show in their early-20s, and Salvador Perez posted a .798 OPS in 76 games as a 22-year-old last year. Still, Myers was the linchpin of it all, and everyone knew each deciding game in Omaha could be his last in the minors. So when Omaha fell to the Reno Aces in the PCL Championship, we could forgive the melodrama of Storm Chasers loyalists wondering if they'd ever get to see Myers again.
It turned out they were right, for the wrong reason.
On December 9, the Royals sent Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis. The Royals undermined years of building for the future by sacrificing the potential centerpiece of their franchise in order to facilitate a quixotic run at the Tigers in 2013. Meanwhile the Rays, as they so often do, vastly improved their future outlook while not dramatically decreasing their chances to make some noise in 2013. In fact, while this trade is a slam dunk for the Rays' future, it could also be what the pitching-rich, hitting-poor team needs to make the playoffs again this season. And if anyone is going to be this year's Bryce Harper (no one will be this year's Mike Trout), Myers is that guy. The burning question in Kansas City might be, "Why did we trade this guy?" but the Burning Question here is "What can Myers do in 2013?"
No one minor league award or stat can definitively predict future success as a major leaguer, but if you were determined to try to use one, the Minor League Player of the Year Award would be your best bet. The six winners preceding the then 21-year-old Myers were Trout, Jeremy Hellickson, Jason Heyward, Matt Wieters, Jay Bruce and Alex Gordon. Going back to the award's inception in 1981, previous winners include Dwight Gooden, Gregg Jefferies, Frank Thomas, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Andruw Jones and Joe Mauer. Myers lived up to that history then some in 2012, hitting .314/.387/.600 with 37 homers and 109 RBI in 134 games combined at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha. Three-quarters of those games were at Omaha, and in those games he hit .304/.378/.554. His walk rate has declined as he has progressed through the ranks, but it was still a strong 10.3 percent at Omaha last year. Myers may not be a sure thing, but he's as close as it gets. We know he's already a prized keeper, so those of you in keeper leagues should be ready to grab him earlier than you feel like you should. But we're trying to evaluate what he can do for us
First, we need to do the best we can to determine approximately how much playing time Myers will get this season. The Rays have a penchant for keeping a prospect's service-time clock at zero for as long as possible to delay his arbitration-eligible years. There's little doubt they'll use that same strategy with Myers, especially since they've still got a great roster without him. He'll start the year at Triple-A Durham, but should be up sometime in early-to-mid May, once they've locked up another full season of team control. As they always do, the Rays have tremendous roster flexibility. That, too, gives them the freedom to keep Myers in the minors longer than most teams might. Once Myers gets the call, Ben Zobrist will likely move to second base from right field, forcing Ryan Roberts into a super-utility role. Obviously we can't pin down an exact date for Myers' promotion, but we can safely project him to fall within the range of 450-500 plate appearances this season. A full season translates to 650-750 plate appearances, so Myers should see about two-thirds of a full MLB season.
Projecting what Myers can do with that time as a 22-year-old is an inexact science, a fact to which 70 or so years worth of scouting can attest. However, baseball's rich data sets allow us to home in on the potential range of Myers' coming 2013 performance. I'm not for suggesting Myers is Trout, but the latter's minor-league track record does provide a valuable point of comparison, given that he and Myers followed a similar path through the minors. They both played one man-among-boys season at Double-A before dominating at Triple-A (though Trout was only there for one season). Furthermore, they both played in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Trout was 19 for most of his one season at Double-A Arkansas, hitting .326/.414/.544 with 11 homers and 33 steals. Myers was 21 during his otherworldly Double-A season, hitting .351/.421/.739 with 13 homers in 35 games before getting promoted to Omaha. We already discussed Myers' superlative Triple-A numbers from 2012. Before getting the call to the majors and injecting life into the disappointing Angels last year, Trout hit .403/.467/.623 with one homer in 20 games with Triple-A Salt Lake. What's more, both Trout and Myers were playing at Triple-A for the first time last year. Baseball doesn't abide by the transitive property, so we can't simply project Trout's stats onto Myers for 2013. But given their similar skill sets and progressions, we can come up with a reliable range of production for Myers. We'll get to that in a minute.
The final piece of the puzzle is the environment. According to parkfactors.com (an invaluable tool for research), Tropicana Field has a park factor of -85. For every 100 runs produced in the majors, Tropicana produced 83, and for every 100 homers, Tropicana surrendered 87. Myers will have to adjust to major league pitching in a park that slightly favors pitchers. That should temper our expectations to a certain degree, though not a huge one. Talent almost always seems to win out in the long run.
With that, I'm ready to give my projection. I'm giving Myers a floor of .260/.330/.430 with 12 homers and 60 RBI and a ceiling of .285/.350/.490 with 25 homers and 90 RBI. Those numbers on the high end assume he gets called up in early May and starts from the day he's in the majors. And in my one serious keeper league, I'll be ready to grab him once I've got about nine or 10 guys for this year on the roster.