Prior to the start of the 2013 season, Tampa Bay outfielder Wil Myers loomed as a potential game changer in the AL East. The 22-year-old looked to be a big acquisition for a Rays offense that perennially struggles to keep up with the team’s superb pitching staff. Despite this fact, Tampa Bay’s front office, ever patient and cautious with its prospects, assigned Myers to Triple-A Durham to begin the season, even though the outfielder already had 439 plate appearances at Triple-A under his belt.
Following some struggles in April, Myers went on to post a .286/.356/.520 line through 289 plate appearances for Durham before the Rays called him up on June 18. Having now spent over a month with Tampa Bay, I thought this would be a good opportunity to examine how the former third-round pick has played thus far in the majors and compare what scouts had to say about Myers in the minors with what his stats now tell us.
In his organizational prospect rankings this spring, minorleagueball.com’s John Sickels gave Myers the top spot among Tampa Bay’s prospects and rated him No. 7 overall in the minor leagues. Prior to his major league debut in June, moreover, Sickels shared his thoughts on Myers, writing this about the young outfielder:
His plate discipline was superb early in his career and he still shows a good feel for the zone at times, but he's also made a conscious effort to be more aggressive over the last two seasons, in order to boost his power production.
That's a two-edged sword. At his best, he can handle both fastballs and off-speed offerings, but his approach isn't always the best and he is vulnerable to breaking stuff and pitches outside the zone when in an over-aggressive mindset. I think this is a matter of emphasis rather than talent: he has a good natural eye, he just needs to decide how to use it, finding the right balance and developing intelligent aggression.
Through his first 33 games, Myers has been everything the Rays could have hoped for, batting .328/.354/.537 with a .209 ISO. What stands out, though, is the 22-year-old’s 5.4% walk rate and the fact he has only walked eight times in 148 plate appearances. Such numbers would put Myers among the bottom 20 of major league players in terms of walk rate if he had enough at-bats to qualify. In addition, he has seen just 3.59 pitches per plate appearance, another stat that demonstrates the overly "aggressive" approach Sickels touched upon back in June.
What this means is that, despite his success so far in the majors, Myers could be in for some growing pains once opposing pitchers begin to use his aggressiveness against him. His .380 BABIP is due for some regression, while his 22.3% strikeout rate indicates that there are ways for opponents to exploit the young hitter.
None of this is necessarily worrisome for the outfielder’s long-term development. Rather, this is the type of adjustment most hitters must make once they graduate from the minors, and Myers is no exception. Boston’s Will Middlebrooks had similar low-walk, high-strikeout totals before being sent back down to Triple-A, but to be fair, Myers was always a more highly touted prospect and has shown better contact ability than the Red Sox third baseman.
Myers has immediately displayed the tremendous power that had scouts fawning over him in the minors. His approach, though, still remains raw, and that will likely bear itself out as he plays more games in the majors.
Reining in his eagerness at the plate will be the next step for Myers, as he learns to better identify which pitches he should take and which ones he should jump all over. In many ways, that process has likely already begun, and achieving that "intelligent aggression" Sickels mentioned in his scouting report will be the final piece of the puzzle for Tampa Bay’s former top prospect.
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All stats courtesy of FanGraphs.com.
Alex Skillin is a Staff Editor for SoxProspects.com and writes, mostly about baseball and basketball, at a few other places across the Internet. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexSkillin.