Wil Myers takes off. Photo: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

Taking The Next Step: Wil Myers


The Royals top prospect is moving up a level, from Northwest Arkansas in Double A to Triple A Omaha.

After a rough 2011, Wil Myers drew skepticism from some about his potential as a prospect. After a season of .254/.353/.393 hitting and just eight homers in a hitter-friendly league and home stadium, the shine was off the apple.

That Myers had fought off a fluke knee injury and resulting infection and he missed a fair amount of time. He also shifted from behind the plate to the outfield full time. As a 20-year-old at the Double A level, he already had some obstacles to get around. In that light, his season was a reasonable success, just not a wild one. He was still part of the All-Star Futures Game and still a Texas League All-Star in midseason, and a .353 on base percentage at any level is good to see.

Still, when the Arizona Fall League came around, Myers had some critics to quiet.

So he did.

Myers hit .360/.481/.674 in 23 games for the Surprise Sagueros and was one of the standouts in the league. He walked more than he struck out while 14 of his 31 base hits went for extra bases.

He earned an invite to spring training where he had five singles in 18 at bats with the big league team.

Now, he’s tearing up the Texas League and is getting the call to Triple A.

His .343 batting average leads the league. His 13 homers are good for second place. Myers and Nathan Freiman are tied with 98 total bases. With an OPS of 1.146, he’s the best hitter at the Double A level.

The adjustment to right field has been better than expected to the point that the Royals have had him play center field more frequently this month and he’s even started at third base a couple of times. The Royals trust his athleticism and moving him from behind the plate may have diminished his value as a prospect (since catchers who can hit are very rare) but should make him a more valuable player overall (since he shouldn’t need as many off days in the outfield and injury isn’t as big of a concern). Before the 2009 draft, Perfect Game USA noted in his scouting report that Myers had “highest level tools and size, and they play all over the field.” So far he’s living up to that billing. His arm is strong (he threw 90 mph in high school) and he has playable speed in center.

Some have suggested that Myers could be a September call up in 2012. That may be a bit quick, despite his skills. I think he could hold his own over the course of a month in the big leagues, but the Royals aren’t a club that jumps levels often with their prospects. They follow the mantra of “better late than early”.

Regardless, Myers is ready for Omaha.

If there’s a knock on him in 2012, it’s that he’s struck out more frequently than at any other level. Through 35 games, he’s struck out 28% of the time. His strikeout rate went up a bit last year in his poor 2011, but it didn’t reach these levels. He’s clearly making hard contact, but he could be that much more productive with less strikeouts. He’s still walking more than 10% of the time, so he’s still got his trademark patience at the plate (Myers walked nearly as often as he had struck out in both levels of A ball). He’s also benefited from Arvest Ballpark, with a .271/.338/.644 to .408/.482/.831 road/home split.

That’s a sharp difference, but even on the road, Myers has been strong.

He’s ready for this new challenge.

J.J. Cooper from Baseball America noted that Mike Moustakas had similar splits in his breakout 2010 season in Northwest Arkansas and it took 66 games for him to reach Omaha. Myers, as one of the best outfield prospects in the game (and maybe the best after Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have made it to the big leagues) didn’t have a lot more to prove at Double A.

Where to fit Myers (and who to displace) is another thing. The Royals currently have Jeff Francoeur signed through 2013. Alex Gordon has signed an extension. Lorenzo Cain was penciled in as the everyday center fielder this year and Jarrod Dyson has played well, so long term, Myers may not see Kansas City until mid-2013 while the outfield gets sorted out (unless he adjusts to center field enough to hold his own).

That’s getting ahead of things. First he has to continue to rake in Omaha. In Triple A right now, David Lough and Derrick Robinson are having good years. Jason Bourgeois is struggling so far since being optioned to Omaha, so Myers will likely take at bats from him and play in right field. The Royals may want to keep Bourgeois in the lineup more often to justify the trade that brought him to Kansas City but Myers should play every day.

Wil Myers has played in 35 games. He’s gone hitless in three of them (and still walked three times in one of those).

Omaha’s the next step in his path. He’s ready.

UPDATE
Myers singled in his first at bat, which Lee Warren of Yahoo Sports recorded and shared:

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