The Royals Super Two: Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi
Wil Myers stood in the box on Thursday night with the bases loaded. On the mound, veteran Roy Oswalt looked in. The multiple time All-Star and Cy Young candidate delivered a pitch.
Myers ripped a line drive over the left field fence.
In 22 games and 89 plate appearances in Omaha, Myers has convinced many (including myself) that he’s ready for the big leagues. He has eight homers, 15 extra base hits. He’s carrying a .325/.371/.723 line in Omaha and .336/.398/.728 when you combine that with his time in Northwest Arkansas. He’s hit 40 extra base hits – and it’s June 9th.
After a stellar offseason that included a standout performance in the Arizona Fall League, the struggles of 2011 are behind him. He’s not fighting fluke injuries like last year, he’s a year older and he’s displaying power that scouts felt he was capable of, but weren’t sure when it would manifest.
Wil Myers is ready for the Kansas City Royals, but the Kansas City Royals may not be ready for him. Yet.
It’s frustrating to see a player roll over competition like Myers has done while the big league team struggles to get more than three runs many nights. Fans clamor for a call up of the new big name on the scene and get upset when it doesn’t happen. I get the frustration, but in the big picture, here are two factors in play that are keeping Myers in Omaha:
1. Where to play him?
While Myers has dabbled in center field a bit at both levels this year, he’s only been a professional outfielder for about 18 months after being drafted as a catcher. He’s by no means a budding everyday center fielder. He could hold his own I’m sure, but he’s much more suited for right field, which is currently patrolled by Jeff Francoeur and his offseason contract extension.
Francoeur is a Royal through next season unless they happen to trade him, which would be an option that likely won’t materialize until closer to the trade deadline in July. The Royals seem intent to keep trotting Jarrod Dyson out nearly every day, Alex Gordon isn’t going to sit and Francoeur’s not going to be a part-time player. When Myers gets up, it’ll be to play everyday. They could put him in center, but it might be an adventure. This isn’t as big an issue as:
2. Myers’s potential Super Two status:
Baseball’s arbitration system is part of the Royals considerations. Typically, a player becomes eligible for arbitration after three seasons. Until that point, they make around the league minimum, which is handy for teams who have solid young players but who don’t have to commit much of their payroll to them right away.
If a player plays 172 days in the big leagues, it’s considered a year of service time. There are usually around 183-186 days within a baseball season, so often, a team will keep a player in the minors before purchasing their contract and promoting them to the big leagues. That allows the team to have full control of their rights for a full six years plus the time they accrue in that first year. For instance, Eric Hosmer debuted on May 6 last season. He built up 146 days of service time, so the Royals have his rights for the rest of this year and for five more full years after.
That kind of clever timing really benefits a team, so to keep ownership from manipulating things too far in their advantage, baseball recognizes some players as Super Two players which is defined in the CBA as a player with between 2 years, 86 days of service time and three years of service time. The top 22% of players in service time within that group qualify for arbitration, meaning they have two years around the league minimum, but they usually get a good raise in their third year. Essentially, it gives that player four years of arbitration rather than three.
For a small market team, that could mean a lot. In the Royals case, they’ll have Eric Hosmer almost certainly as a Super Two player after next season and Mike Moustakas may be in there as well. If Wil Myers fell into that category, contracts start adding up quickly. Consider players like Hunter Pence, Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder. All three were Super Two players and Pence’s salary jump from $439K in his second season to $3.5 million was the smallest jump of the trio. Howard and Fielder saw their first year of arbitration pay out at $7 million and $10 million respectively. Once that first arbitration number is set, it usually doesn’t go down, so the Royals could be on the hook for millions more than if they’d waited.
For what it’s worth, Myers could be called up today and might sneak outside the top 22% and not qualify for Super Two status, but the only period that feels safe would be mid-to-late July to keep Myers under the two years, 86 days threshold. There’s never a firm date, since Super Two status is relative to other players within that class, so it’s a bit of guessing. July should be safe, though.
Fans are going to blame David Glass and hurl the typical vitriol at him as being cheap or doing things the Wal-Mart way, but it’s prudent for a team that simply won’t allow their payroll to balloon to the point where they have no flexibility. Would Wil Myers be enough to propel the Royals to the playoffs in 2012? It’s pretty likely that that wouldn’t be the case, so for the sake of perhaps five more wins this season, the Royals would sacrifice millions down the road – millions that could go towards signing a starting pitcher during free agency or which could be applied to a contract extension. That’s just not worth it in the big picture.
In that same game in which Myers hit the grand slam off Oswalt, Everett Teaford made two innings of a rehab start. That’s usually not big news, but on this night, the player who relieved him stood out.
Jake Odorizzi stepped in and threw 6.2 innings, allowing five hits and one run. He struck out ten.
In 28.1 innings in Triple A, Odorizzi has great numbers. His ERA sits at a sparkling 2.22, his strikeout (8.6 K/9) and walkrate (2.9 BB/9) look good, and while he’s given up some base hits, they haven’t translated into runs. In 66.1 innings in the minors across Double and Triple A, Odorizzi has a 2.85 ERA and nearly a 4/1 K/BB ratio.
He’s vaulted ahead of Mike Montgomery as the team’s top pitching prospect, and just 22, he’s close to being ready for his debut.
The same Super Two considerations apply to Odorizzi as to Myers and pitchers can get pricey in a hurry as well. Last year, he rolled through Wilmington and was promoted mid-season to Northwest Arkansas and struggled. There were concerns he’d run into similar issues this year with another mid-season promotion, but that hasn’t happened yet (and hopefully won’t), but another jump to the big leagues may be getting too quick with him. The Royals are a franchise that has said they’d rather be too late on a prospect than too early, so they’ll exercise caution with Odorizzi.
That’s not to say that Odorizzi won’t see Kansas City this year. If nothing else, he’s a great candidate for a September callup if he’s not up sooner. It’s also possible that Odorizzi could be the next pitcher to get called up. The Royals weren’t shy about bringing Danny Duffy to the majors last year when he looked ready.
Now, with all of that in consideration, my hunch is that the Royals feel alright about their odds in the Super Two gamble. I tweeted a few days ago that I think Myers makes it up after this round of interleague play. At a certain point, they just can’t fight it. Only Josh Hamilton has more home runs in professional baseball than Myers right now.
Odorizzi is a different story. I think Kansas City wants to see a couple more starts from him before moving him to the big leagues. Jonathan Sanchez is close to returning, which clogs up the rotation and Teaford will be back soon. Maybe Teaford is optioned back to Omaha right after being activated, but if Felipe Paulino ends up on the DL, the Royals may want both arms up. It’s just more complicated, and the Royals won’t help themselves by calling up Odorizzi for one start then shuttling him back down. When he’s up, he should be here to stay.