The urgency for the Royals to find outfielders seems to have lessened considerably.
Perhaps the highlight of the season for the Royals has been the surprising play of its three primary outfielders. Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur have been hitting, running, fielding and throwing like they mean to stay in KC for some time.
That is good news for a team searching for answers. But it may mean those angling for outfield spots in the future will have a battle on their hands.
Before the season, there were some overly impatient fans calling for Wil Myers to be given one of those outfield spots at some point in 2011. As it turns out, Myers will have to wait his turn. And he’ll have to prove that the lofty accolades accorded him were deserved.
Currently listed as the number one prospect in the KC farm system, as well as the number four outfielder and number 18 prospect in all of minor league baseball, Myers hasn’t exactly played a starring role this season.
In fact, he’s struggled at the plate and hit for little power, while developing slowly into an adequate corner outfielder, having shifted there from catcher during the off-season. Reputed to have an “advanced bat” for his age, Myers is hitting just .251 with only five homers.
But Myers isn’t about to call the season a failure just yet.
“I’ve dealt with some injuries early on, but so far it’s been a good learning experience for me. I’d like to have a little bit better average than I have right now, but so far it’s still been a good season.”
One particular injury threw Myers off track early in the summer, and he may have yet to fully recover. In late April he suffered a severe cut on his knee in an off-the-field accident – one that required two stitches and four staples. More than three months later, he says he is still dealing with soreness and swelling.
At this point, Myers says the injury is no longer affecting his hitting or running, but rather his comfort in times of inactivity.
“It’s not affected my baseball, I don’t think, but it just gets sore a lot of times like when I’m driving or just sleeping at night. It just has some aches and pains in it. So it’s not when I’m running or anything, but more like when I’m just doing nothing.”
Though Myers has struggled at the plate, he’s not blaming the injury.
“I don’t think it’s slowed my development,” he said. “I’m just learning the game at this level, learning the pitchers. I don’t think it’s really hurt me at all.
“It’s just about making the adjustments at every level. There’s better pitching, better players at this league, so it’s about making those adjustments.”
Myers rocketed through two levels of the minors last season. Therefore, he won’t turn 21 until December, and he is one of the younger players in the Texas League. He does admit he’s facing significantly better pitching at the Double-A level.
“That’s definitely different. These guys are more developed. These guys have more good pitches and they can throw them for strikes. So it’s definitely different to be up there knowing that those guys can throw any pitch at any time.”
The Naturals have brought Myers along slowly this season. In addition to time off due to injury, Myers has been given plenty of days off – he’s played in just 81 of the team’s 117 games. Perhaps the play of the trio of outfielders in KC has made Myers’ development seem less urgent. But his struggles have shown it would be wrong to rush him at this point.
Expectations were so lofty prior to the season that anything short of spectacular was bound to be a disappointment. But Myers is doing his best not to let those expectations affect his performance.
“I try not to worry about those things,” he said. “I don’t feel any added pressure. I just try to go out and get better every day, get key hits when I can, work with my coaches, and make adjustments along the way.”
Compounding the difficulty of recovering from injury and adjusting to tougher competition, Myers has added a position change to his workload. Prior to this season, Myers had played only catcher in the Royals system. But so high was the opinion of his work with the bat that it was decided he would advance more quickly if he were an outfielder.
“Switching to outfield was a good switch for me,” said Myers. “I don’t think it’s helped or hurt my development (at the plate). They just moved me out there so that hopefully I could move a little quicker.
“I played a little in the outfield growing up. In high school I was a shortstop/pitcher guy. I never even caught in high school. So they switched me this year to the outfield and I think I’m taking it well.”
Tall, strong, and relatively fast and athletic, Myers has the potential to be a well-rounded outfielder. He knows he has a lot to learn, however,
“I think it’s one of the easier positions, honestly, to learn. But it’s harder than what people think. Reading the ball off the bat, knowing the spins, knowing how hard people are going to hit it, getting jumps off it.
“I’ve had the coaches stick with me and they’ve helped me out a lot.”
Prior to the season, many thought Cabrera and Francoeur were just keeping outfield spots warm for Myers, Lorenzo Cain, Jerrod Dyson and David Lough. But the two veterans, still in just their mid-20s, have shown they still can play and have expressed they want to do so in KC.
That’s good for KC. And it might just be good for Myers, as he appears to need a good deal more seasoning.
He will most certainly be promoted to Triple A Omaha for next season. But it would be nice if he could finish off his Double-A career worthy of his lofty reputation.