First off, I’d like to thank the fine people at mediaite.com for naming me to their list of the “Top 25 Sports Bloggers, Writers, and Tweeters.” Unfortunately, I’d much rather that the Royals make the Official Standings list of the “Top 25 Major League Baseball Teams.” (Last year they finished tied for 26th. So close!)
Still, it is an honor, and I’m especially pleased to be part of Kansas City’s domination of the list. Joe Posnanski and Jason Whitlock need no introduction, but both Jason King and Sports by Brooks’ Brooks Melchior worked at the Star before branching out into the wild world of the internet. The sportswriting scene in Kansas City continues to be the bizarro version of the Royals, the scrappy small-market outfit that dominates its larger, better-funded competitors.
Back to the prospects. After discussing Mike Moustakas, the third baseman with a catcher’s body, it’s only appropriate that we move onto Wil Myers, the catcher with an outfielder’s body. But unlike the case with Moustakas, where Moose’s prospect status is threatened by his lack of a stable position, the fact that Myers’ ultimate position is undefined only adds to the intrigue. In Myers’ case, at least at this point his bat projects at any position. If he can master the tools of ignorance, well, you go from talking about a potential star to a potential superstar.
Myers was considered a dark-horse first-round candidate before last year’s draft, ranking #31 on Baseball America’s draft chart; he only ranked that low because, playing at a private high school in North Carolina, he rarely faced strong competition outside of showcase events. The Royals reportedly considered taking him with their first pick, and might well have done so if Aaron Crow had not been available. Myers then fell to the third round, in large part because teams were worried about his bonus demands, and the Royals – continuing a recent trend for which Dayton Moore & Co. deserve massive credit for – snagged him in the 3rd round, with the 91st overall pick. They signed him for $2 million, roughly mid-1st round money, and double what any other third-round pick (save one) received.
It appears to be money well spent. Myers quickly laid to rest the concerns about his bat against pro competition. In 22 pro games after signing, he hit .369/.427/.679, with 14 extra-base hits in just 84 at-bats. Numbers like that are nice, but may not be that meaningful in such a small sample size. True, Billy Butler hit .373/.488/.596 in his first pro season straight out of high school; on the other hand, Jeff Bianchi hit .408/.484/.745 in his first year.
There are a couple reasons to think that Myers is closer to Butler than Bianchi on the prep hitter spectrum. For one, most of his performance came at Idaho Falls, one rung above rookie ball, and away from the thin Arizona air that always inflates hitters numbers. Butler spent his entire first season in Idaho Falls; Bianchi benefited from the Arizona League.
But the main reason to think Myers’ numbers are meaningful is simply because his scouting reports are equally impressive. He has everything you’d want from a teenage hitter; tremendous raw power, quick wrists that allow him rip line drives to both fields, and the ability to wait on pitches and avoid swinging at ones out of the zone. It’s early, but Myers looks like the most special bat the Royals have drafted out of high school since Butler. There’s a reason why Myers landed at #83 on Kevin Goldstein’s list, and was strongly considered for the Top 100 by both Baseball America and Keith Law. That may not sound like much, but it’s very rare for a player to make a Top 100 Prospect list the winter after he was drafted unless he was a first-round, or even top ten, pick.
Now, it’s way too early to compare Myers to Butler offensively. Myers would have to reach Double-A this summer and hit .313 with power during his time there to match Butler’s performance when he was 19 years old. But whereas Butler’s entire value resided within his bat, Myers has the tools and athleticism to help his team in multiple ways. Butler has spent five years working on his defense, and it was still considered a major breakthrough for him last season when he played a passable first base in the majors. Just based on his physical build, Myers figures to have far more defensive value than Bam Bam. Myers is taller (6’3” vs. 6’1”), leaner (190 pounds vs. 240), faster, and far more athletic than Butler. He throws in the upper-80s, and moves well behind the plate.
It’s still a long shot that he’ll reach the major leagues as a catcher. While Myers’ arm helped him to throw out 5 of 12 potential basestealers last season, his inexperience showed when it came to blocking errant pitches – he allowed six passed balls in just 10 games. Myers played all over the field in high school, so while scouts feel he has the necessary tools to become at least an average catcher, he is a very much a work in progress.
I absolutely agree with the Royals’ decision to try Myers behind the plate for at least all of this season. But the Royals may find themselves in a strange paradox: the quicker his bat develops, the more they may be pressed into moving him to a less demanding position rather than hinder his progress up the chain. He doesn’t have the classic body type for a catcher – he’s a little too long and lean – and it’s no surprise that two players he’s been compared to are Dale Murphy and Jayson Werth, both guys who developed as catchers but only blossomed in the majors after a move to the outfield.
Myers, at 6’3”, is pretty much at the upper bound of how tall you can be and still play catcher – the taller you are, the more of a pounding your knees take from all the squatting and standing. Joe Mauer is 6’5”, but Mauer defies historic comparison in so many ways. (And Mauer has already dealt with significant knee and back problems.) In the live-ball era, only one other player that stood 6’5” has caught even 600 games: Sandy Alomar, who seemingly had knee problems from the moment he entered the league. Nine guys measured at 6’4” have caught 600 games, including our main Jamie Quirk; the most successful were 60s-era Johnny Edwards and Tom Haller. Werth is 6’5”, Murphy is 6’4”. Drop the bar down to 6’3”, and you find a wealth of successful and long-lasting catchers, including Mike Piazza, Lance Parrish, and Iron Man Carlton Fisk.
Can Myers make it as a catcher in the majors? It’s certainly worth giving him that shot. But I think his bat is special enough that I won’t be too heartbroken if he has to move to the outfield, because as much as the Royals’ need a long-term solution at catcher, their long-term outlook in the outfield isn’t much better. The team hasn’t come remotely close to developing an outfielder since David DeJesus was a rookie in 2004, and as it stands, all four of their potential starting outfielders (DeJesus, Podsednik, Ankiel, and Guillen) are all potential free agents after this season. (DeJesus, fortunately, is tied to a club option in 2011.) While the Royals have some decent short-term replacement options in Jordan Parraz and David Lough, and a couple of long-term lottery tickets in Derrick Robinson and Hilton Richardson, they don’t have a single outfielder in the system who’s a Grade A, or even Grade B, prospect.
So if Myers’ future is in the outfield, as say a prototypical power-hitting right fielder with a strong arm and range afield, I’ll be perfectly happy with that. But if the light bulb goes on this season and we start getting glowing reports about his catching skills, then feel free to get really excited. I know that I’ll be watching closely to see how he hits this season – Myers, more than anyone else in the system, has the potential to rocket himself into phenom territory this season, the guy who winds up in Baseball America’s Prospect Pulse and Kevin Goldstein’s Monday Ten-Pack every week. I’ll be watching, but I’ll be listening even more intently to the scouting buzz about his defense. A lot can go wrong on the road from Idaho Falls to Kansas City. But Myers has a chance to be that Special Talent that we all thought Moustakas and Hosmer would be.