FORT MYERS – Hmmm … Fort Myers. Maybe, one day, that’ll be the nickname for Tropicana Field.
Rays bopper prospect Wil Myers took batting practice the other day before a spring training game against the Red Sox at their toy Fenway Park with its toy Green Monster. Myers’ swings can make you stop, watch – and listen. Who isn’t curious?
“One day in BP at home, he hit the ball off the top of the scoreboard,” Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton said. “It was kind of a line drive, too. He hit it right off the WDAE sign, and it was like, ‘Damn, you don’t see that very often.’ ”
“The ball off his bat, it definitely makes a different kind of sound,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Now hear this: Wil Myers won’t begin the season with the Rays. It’s not happening.
Myers hit a triple the other day. He surprised some people with just how well he ran. Tuesday, Myers, a converted catcher, raced from right field to grab a fly ball to short right center. That also opened a few eyes.
It also underscored the point: The Rays just don’t know that much about Myers. It’s the first time they’re seeing him.
He is hitting .263 this spring, five hits, no home runs. Not that it matters at the moment.
“In spring, I’ve always been a slow starter,” Myers said. “It’s just one of those things. I’m just missing my pitch right now. But my timing is getting there. I can feel it. I feel like I’m this close to going off.”
You’d think fleeting memories of the Rays’ awful 2012 offense should seemingly be enough to bring Myers to Opening Day. It isn’t. Nor are the stunning ascendancies of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. It won’t budge the ever cautious Rays, even if Myers ends up crushing the ball this spring. He might as well pack now.
“We can’t mess this up,” Maddon said.
The 22-year-old Myers has Can’t Miss stamped on his forehead, but Maddon and his staff hadn’t seen him play in person until a month ago. They’re just beginning to explore his tools, understand how he ticks. It’s about that more than financial considerations, though those are a factor (hey, it’s the Rays). It’s about making a complete ballplayer.
Yes, Trout and Harper both made the majors when they were younger than Myers is right now. But they’re clearly from another planet. And they were drafted and raised by their teams.
When Evan Longoria joined the Rays early in the 2008 season, he’d played 180 fewer minor league games than Myers has under his belt. But Longoria had played college baseball, and was a top Rays draft pick.
If Myers had hit 37 homers last season in the Rays farm system, not the Royals farm system, he might be in the Tampa Bay outfield on Opening Day.
It would be an easy decision, right now, if this club wasn’t competitive. Remember how unfinished a product Delmon Young was when he arrived in 2006? The Rays could let him get on-the-job training. They weren’t any good.
“It was come on up, let’s see what you’ve got,” Maddon said. “Here, we’ve got to win from the start. There’s no settling-in period.”
“I do think I’m big-league ready,” Myers said. “But that’s not for me to decide.”
The Rays are taking great pains this spring to not make it about Myers. They’re batting him way down in the order in the name of nixing any Savior talk.
“We have a good team on the field even without him right now,” Maddon said. “We’ll be even better when he’s here, but only with all the ingredients in place. Get it right. Get it right the first time. You don’t want to have to piece somebody together if they come up here and they blow up.”
But it was fun the other day as Myers hit against the baby Green Monster. It’s easy to picture him in Boston, aiming at the real thing.
“I actually had a pre-draft workout at Fenway,” Myers said. “I hit well at Fenway. I hit a few over the Monster.”
Wonder what it sounded like.
Right now, Durham sounds about right.