It’s not a huge surprise, but, like the Jeff Francoeur signing this winter, it’s nice to have it out of the way. We can move on. There’s no more speculation.
This revelation came from a Q&A session with General Manager Dayton Moore at this weekend’s FanFest.
In discussing Myers, Moore said that the 20 year old (barely) “liked catching, but didn’t love it, and you have to love it.”
Myers had caught at every level with the Royals, ending last season with Wilmington. He has a great arm, but there were aspects of game-calling and pitcher managing that weren’t developing quickly. He threw out 42% of baserunners trying to steal in 2009, but that was in only 11 games. In a full season among two levels, Myers only threw out 32% of runners, only 26% at High A Wilmington. He also had 20 passed balls in 75 games.
I have two conflicting thoughts on the move. First, it’s a good idea because it allows Myers to focus almost entirely on hitting. His bat is already reaching elite levels (he has a career .962 OPS) and he has the plate discipline to punish pitchers when he works a hitter’s count. Even at 20 years old and with a stint in cavernous Frawley Stadium in Wilmington, he has 19 homers in 637 plate appearances.
As a prospect, he has more value as a catcher. With that bat and even average defensive skills, he’d be an upgrade over nearly every other catcher in the big leagues (down the line) who weren’t named Joe Mauer or Brian McCann. Catcher is a position where average offensive skills aren’t just tolerated, but highly valuable. An average defensive catcher who can hit at Myers’s level is extremely valuable since very few teams will have that kind of offensive production from that position (and allows for a strong producer in the other positions, too).
Catching, however, can be physically taxing, and can increase the likelihood of injuries – broken fingers, back issues, general fatigue from the demands of the position – and so catchers traditionally play in less games than other position players. In that case, a move to the outfield probably adds 100 plate appearances to a full season of Myers.
The Royals have worked hard to reinvent their farm system. A few years ago, they had no catching prospects to speak of. Now, they’re able to move a player like Myers off the position because they have depth and talent. Manuel Pina has a reputation as a solid defender and in 2010 he hit .252/.310/.393/.713. It’s not superb, but it’s passable, especially given his other skills.
They also have Salvador Perez in line for a look behind the plate in the coming years. Perez is only 20 years old himself and is coming off a .290/.322/.411/.733 season for Wilmington. Kevin Goldstein has him ranked as a top 25 prospect and potential breakout candidate. With Luke May and Brayan Pena currently in Kansas City, the Royals can choose either one of them for 2012 and have Pina work into a 50-70 games while Perez continues to develop.
Meanwhile, Myers moving to the outfield should help him advance rapidly through the system. He could start the year in Wilmington for a couple of weeks and play the rest of the season with Northwest Arkansas before his 21st birthday. It probably moves him a year closer to the big leagues and gives the Royals a true outfield prospect where they really didn’t have a clear favorite. (Brett Eibner could become that kind of A-B level prospect as soon as next offseason, though.)
Myers has been listed as a top three prospect in the Royals system even before his .966 OPS run at Wilmington. He was already the #1 prospect in Kings of Kauffman’s Prospect Rankings for 2010 and next month, when our new rankings for 2011 begin, he’s pretty likely to retain that spot (spoiler alert).