Saturday, March 6, 2010

Prospect Rundown, Part 3

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.

21 comments:

steak said...

Congrats on the ranking, Rany. Keep the prospect updates coming... Dutton and Keagel have beat the major league horse enough (which I suppose is their job).

Jack Campbell said...

This may be misguided, and I'm not married to this point of view, but I'd really rather Wil Meyers not make it as a catcher. Putting a special bat behind the plate always makes me nervous; Piazza, Fisk, and Mauer are the big-body-special-bat catcher success stories. What we don't know is how many thousand guys may have had a good career ruined by the physical pounding of trying to develop as a catcher in the minors.
Also, I've always equated catchers with pitchers in the following way: Have you ever wondered why pitchers can't hit? For example, if Greinke had come up as a position player, many think his bat would have been playable at the ML level. Yet NL pitchers who make regular plate appearances can't hit, and if Greinke were to do so now--his homer in Arizona notwithstanding--I doubt he would even hit the Mendoza line. That's because pitcher's concentrate ALL of their energy in becoming better pitchers. To a lesser extent, catchers do the same thing. Learning how to work counts, how to communicate with--and even coach on-field--pitchers, block balls, throw out runners (more specifically, learning to HOLD runners), and to generally manage the game on the field requires so much practice time that hitting takes a back seat. Now, you could argue that Meyers' bat is special enough that you can allow it to take a back seat to defense, but then you'd have to wonder just how special it would be if it were his primary focus. The Royals offense is so painfully anemic, we need a special bat at ANY position. We don't really have the luxury of saying, "you know, we need a good bat behind the plate (because we have good bats everywhere else)." Let's focus on Meyers' bat, make it as special as it can possibly be, and put him wherever that goal is best realized. Sticking him behind the plate doesn't fit that strategy. (but since Moose's bat has a hole in it, let's stick him back there).

Terry Jones said...

Rany...great analysis as always.

Now, not to change the subject, but I was none too shocked to read that the man at the helm of our beloved boys in blue was just ranked by one of SI's bloggers as the worst GM in baseball.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/tim_marchman/03/03/gm.rankings/index.html

I know I shouldn't be surprised, but damn, it still stings. That sure doesn't give me any warm and fuzzies for the future of baseball in KC.

Jim said...

I'm starting to get excited even though I told myself I wouldn't. Bring on baseball!!!

Terry Jones said...

Not sure why the link was truncated, but here's one more try:

sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/tim_marchman/03/03/gm.rankings/index.html

Anonymous said...

Terry,

While it is easy to hate on GMDM, I think it is silly to call him the worst GM in baseball. He has made some savvy ML pickups (Soria, Bannister, locking up the best pitcher in baseball) to go with the bad moves that everyone likes to beat into the ground. He will probably always overvalue some marginal ML players, but the work he is doing with the minor league system and some of the minor league trades is really, really strong for such a small market team.

Also, he has really been able to convince ownership to keep the wallet open, so as far as I ma concerned, we should judge Dayton less by Betancourt than by the fantastic drafting. If you count the relief pitching prospects, he probably pulled 6-8 guys that could make a serious impact on the team (through performance or trade). Add the international prospects to the mix, and I think, even given the young state of our farm system, he is totally out of the top five.

Anyone that thinks Moore is doing something worse than Minaya or Wade is just using us as a punching bag without doing any real responsible reporting.

Anonymous said...

I'm not ready to give up on Hosmer just yet. He had injuries and that eye problem last year. If he goes out and has another horrible year this year, then I'll give up. I'm excited to see what he does this year though.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 8:05,

Dayton Moore should be sent to the guillotine!

Then Minaya and Wade can follow!

Jason Dixon said...

"Also, he has really been able to convince ownership to keep the wallet open"

With the draft and international talent, yes, but at the Major League level it was one big goof-up with Guillen (and lesser ones with Yabuta, Tomko, Farnsworth and Mahay) and, bam, off went the spigots.

I would hope that Moore thought they would remain on, and Guillen would not be the last high-dollar FA to be signed, and subsequently had the money carpet yanked from under his feet when it blew up, rather than him just spending what few resources he had so poorly.

And since the Royals cannot (or will not)compete economically that only leaves them with being smarter about acquiring (thru either the draft, FA, or trade) and developing talent in order to overtake their competition. Moore may not deserve the bottom ranking but the fact he is not considered by anyone other than Glass to be at the TOP of the list will be just as crippling to the Royals chances to become competitive again.

And congrats to Rany on his blog ranking! It is well deserved.

Anonymous said...

I love minor league talent development, and even in my older age planning another jaunt to AA and AAA this year. Yet, I ask myself, why oh why can't the Royals ever just grab a high dollar free agent who simply rakes the ball?

"Hosee" never had the stats of a real run producing batting threat.

Anonymous said...

Anyone have insight as to where Meyers will pay this year (Burlington, Idaho, or AA)?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info Rany. Sounds like Myers might be the real deal whether he plays in the outfield or behind the plate.

The info you provide on the minor league talent is not available anywhere else, so keep it coming if you could.

Congrats on the recognition. It is well deserved.

More info on the pitching would be very appreciated. How far away is Crow? Any arms looking to make it to the bigs this year? What about Disco Hayes. Haven't heard his name mentioned lately.

Just got the news on Gordon about his broken thumb. This is a major bummer as everything seemed to be positive coming out of camp. His development is important and these things keep sidelining him. I hope he can make a quick comeback and still have a strong year. Let us know what you think.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info on prospects. It's nice to get some thorough analysis, and it's comforting that the Royals are trying to do some creative things. It seems like Moose and Myers should switch roles. Maybe a bad year for Moose will change his mind.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic drafting? Hardly.

After the first round, the drafting has been good. Hosmer and Moose over Weiters, Smoak, Posey, etc....not so good and certainly not fantastic.

I would grade his drafts as a B-. Thankfully, Arbuckle is on board now, as it seems last years draft may have been a slam dunk.

Anonymous said...

You can't really judge Hosmer and Moose compared to those guys just yet. Hosmer and Moose were both 3 years younger than those guys when they were drafted. If, in 3 years, they are still not close to the majors as impact players, then we can judge them. But remember, none of the guys you mentioned has been a true impact player just yet, although Weiters had a decent second half last year.

On a side note, just saw that Jeff Bianchi is going to miss yet another season due to injury. If only that guy could stay healthy...

Anonymous said...

I'd much rather see Myers developed as a CF. He would still be a special bat at a premium position and if he couldn't handle CF at a high level, he could slide to RF without delaying the arrival of his bat in the majors. However, if he spends two years trying to become a catcher and fails, he will then have to learn a new position on top of having acquired needless wear and tear on his body and possibly delaying his bat. I'm not a fan of catchers over 6'1" in the first place. Look at Mike Sweeney, his bat had a chance to be special, but playing catcher all through the minors and even into the majors delayed its arrival, kept him from developing into an adequate defensive 1B and probably derailed his career early. If he had been moved to 1B, because of his size, when he was drafted, he might still be banging out .300/.400/.500 seasons for us as our 1B or DH.

Chance said...

I don't see the need to even follow the big league team this year...lets just keep getting the updates on the minors. I appreciate all the info, and analysis, and I am excited for 2011

Anonymous said...

Myers will be in Burlington.

John said...

Rany - What are your thoughts on the Bianchi injury?

Anonymous said...

The guy is an infielder and needed Tommy John....you can't blame that on the training staff.

Spurs Em On said...

Congrats on making the list, Rany. Grant Wahl from SI is also a Kansas City native, although he doesn't spend much time covering local teams