Wil Myers will not be the 2013 starting right fielder for the Tampa Bay Rays - or center fielder, for that matter - but to see why, we should quickly review: Who is William Myers?
My favorite synopsis of Myers, and expectations for his performance, was published on Monday by Sports Illustrated:
Myers is no guarantee for stardom, but he does have a reasonable chance at attaining it. Drafted out of a North Carolina high school as a catcher, he reached No. 10 on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list prior to the 2011 season, but poor receiving skills led the Royals to move him to the outfield, and he lost a month due to a knee laceration that became infected. He dropped to 28th on BA's list for 2012 but enjoyed a breakout, hitting .314/.387/.600 with 37 homers split between Double-A (35 games, 13 homers, .343/.414/.731) and Triple-A Omaha (99 games, 24 homers .304/.378/.554), with the latter portion compiled as the second-youngest regular in the Pacific Coast League. One concern is that he won't be able to maintain that impressive but unprecedented burst of power.
Baseball Prospectus also profiled his strengths and weaknesses earlier this month in their helpful series Prospects Will Break Your Heart .
Strengths: Natural hitting ability; quick/strong wrists; balanced swing; excellent raw strength; plus bat speed; hit tool is easy 6; power potential is 6; middle-of-the-order profile; mature approach; quality athlete; plus arm.
Weaknesses: Not many weaknesses with the bat; swing can get a little wild; two-strike approach could use refinement; hasn't been tested by high-level stuff yet; needs refinement with his outfield routes; baserunning.
Fantasy Future: From a corner spot, Myers is likely to hit for average (.285-plus) with good game power (25-plus HR). Above-average right field profile.
Armed with this information, let's look at the reasons why Myers will not start 2013 at the major league level.
Four Reasons Wil Myers will start his 2013 season in AAA:
To my knowledge, the Rays front office has never, ever rushed a prospect through the minors. Barring a significant injury in the outfield or an "Evan Longoria 1.0" contract extension, the Rays will most likely store Myers at AAA until the Super-2 date has passed.
The rules for Super 2 status are rather sensitive. A player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service is eligible for salary arbitration if he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season and he ranks in the top 22 percent (increased from 17 percent in previous agreements) in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service. Additionally, these days need not be consecutive, but can occur at any point during the season.
Avoiding Super 2 status gives Tampa Bay one more year of service time than if he broke the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. If you are not thoroughly convinced that this is reason enough for Myers to begin his Rays career in Durham, there are many more to choose from.
Wil Myers was drafted as a catcher, but he was not a great catcher. Like most super prospects on a high school or college team, Myers played every position on the field and would even pitch. The Royals used him at catcher in rookie and A- ball before moving him to the outfield at the AA level.
This process was slowed by a knee infection in 2010, noted above, but he made a full recovery in the 2011 season. Then he began testing the outfield. For AA Northwest Arkansas, Myers played 75 games in right field, 13 games in center, and 6 in left. The following season, Myers was still dabbling around, playing 103 games in the outfield - 87 in center, and only 18 in right - while the rest of his time was spent at DH or third base between Arkansas and AAA Omaha.
Baseball Prospectus noted in Myers's weaknesses that he has bad outfield routes. Well, no kidding!
The Rays need to commit Myers to one position and end his bouncing around. That process presumably starts now, and the Rays are flexible enough in the outfield to match whatever Myers becomes. Matt Joyce is capable in the corners, Desmond Jennings plays left and center, and both Sam Fuld and Ben Zobrist will do whatever is asked of them. Once Myers has a position, the defense will form to fit.
Myers has publicly stated his favorite position is now center field, most recently telling TBO.com's Roger Mooney, "I feel great out there!" - but is he the center fielder of the future?
Myers does have a cannon for an arm (former catchers, right?), so he can return the ball from anywhere in the outfield. Admittedly, the idea of Myers developing into an every day center fielder has me thrilled and would be to the Rays' advantage (the arms of Jennings and Joyce are really best fit in the corners), but there is far more to defense than a plus arm from the warning track.
The question is whether Myers can develop the range of a center fielder, and Myers already seems to be at a disadvantage. Jennings is quick on his feet, while Myers might still have the legs of a catcher. If he truly wants Bossman Junior's old job, Myers's top priority will be proving that he can cover ground in the middle of the field.
No matter where you stand on Meyer's projected position, this will be a fun story to follow through Spring Training -but it is only evidence that Myers needs a bit more time to find his place in the outfield before reaching The Show.
3. Batting Practice
Wil Myers saw a dramatic spike in his power last year, but with that came an increase in strikeouts. As BP notes, most of his trouble came on two-strike at-bats. Myers will crush anything hanging over the plate, but pitchers have a tendency to fool him late in the count. Another reason to spend more time at the AAA level is simply to develop patience at the plate.
The Rays could also use this time to prepare for his promotion to other aspects of major league pitching. What will Myers do when pitchers throw to the outside corners on third strike? How well can he turn on a heater that's well placed on the inside portion of the plate? There are legitimate reasons to spend a few more months at the minors.
4. The Offense Will Survive
Tampa Bay has lost B.J. Upton (107 wRC+), Jeff Keppinger (117), Carlos Pena (98), and Luke Scott (97) to free agency. League average is normalized at 100 wRC+, so in lay-man's terms, the Rays need only replace +19% run creation above league average between four players on the roster, or about 12 runs (when 60 runs is average).
With that in mind, try this thought experiment:
The Rays have already acquired two defense first infielders coming off of down offensive years in Yunel Escobar and James Loney. Both players have a career average 103 wRC+, and stand to beat that number if they return to 2011 form. If this were to come true, replacement level bats at DH and center field will already match the offensive production forgone by the free agents. My hope is for both Loney and Escobar to achieve 110 wRC+ in 2013, but let's assume that figure clocks in at 105 each. If the Rays sign or trade for a designated hitter capable of 109 wRC+, a league average performance from Myers and his predecessor would match the production lost to free agency.
So let me say this now: slotting Sam Fuld into center field until Myers reaches the majors is not the end of the world.
To say that Fuld's defense is more than capable in center field would be an understatement, and his career average 90 wRC+ would only be in the starting line-up for half the year, and only when Ben Zobrist is playing at second base. However, while Zobrist spends some time in the outfield, his likely infield replacement would be Ryan Roberts, who has a career 92 wRC+. If Roberts and Fuld combine for 92 wRC+ in the first half, Wil Myers needs only 108 wRC+ in the second half to equalize at 100 wRC+ and bring the Rays back to last year's production levels.
If developed properly, Myers should be able to offer run creation well above league average - with my expectation being about 66 runs created, or about 110 wRC+. This thought experiment on run creation has a lot of assumptions, but I hope you see my point. When it comes to Wil Myers, the front office is sure to bide their time.
Super 2 and contract concerns aside, Myers still has not found his niche in the outfield, still has vulnerabilities in his swing, and the Rays can survive without him for the next few months. Why push it?
So when the pundits call for Myers' promotion at the beginning of the season, feel free to laugh. The Rays have no reason to rush Myers through the minors.