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Rays optimistic Myers is a star in the making

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 05:19 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Wil Myers always stopped by the office of Omaha manager Mike Jirschele on the way to the field before each game. He'd sit and chat for a few minutes, then reach for a piece of candy in the dish Jirschele keeps on the corner of his desk filled with mini Nestle Crunch and Krackel candy bars.

"I need my candy bar for the game," Myers would say as he fiddled with the wrapping.

"I hate to see him go, but when you need pitching you have to give up some guys like that," Jirschele said Monday from his Wisconsin home.

Myers, one of the key figures in the Rays' Sunday night trade that sent pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals for four prospects, likely wouldn't have played much for Jirschele at Triple-A in 2013 if he played for Jirschele at all.

The outfielder, who turned 22 on Monday, was the consensus minor-league player of the year last summer. He was expected to make his much anticipated major league debut in 2013 with the Royals. Now, that honor will occur in a Rays uniform.

When? That's up to the Rays' brain trust, who like their rookies to begin the season at Triple-A Durham before allowing them to face the glare of big league expectations and start their arbitration clock.

"Wil Myers is a guy who has a chance to hit in the middle of a lineup," Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "We feel he has a chance to develop into a good outfielder, which as you know we're as focused on as much as what guys do in the batter's box."

When Myers does reach the big leagues, well, "He's going to be a special one," said Jake Odorizzi, a right-handed pitcher, who along with left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard, were included in the trade.

Odorizzi, 22, won 15 games in 2012 while pitching in Double-A and Triple-A. He was 11-3 with a 2.93 ERA for Omaha and made his major league debut in September when he made a pair of starts against Cleveland.

"We feel like Odie has a chance to be one of five in a really good major league rotation, and we're excited to get him," Friedman said.

A member of Team USA in last summer's All-Star Futures Game, Odorizzi has good command of four pitches — fastball, change-up, curveball and slider. His fastball tops out in the mid-90s and his slider is considered above average.

"He reminds me a lot of a young Zack Greinke," Jirschele said. "Same makeup. He's a competitor. He takes his job serious."

Montgomery, 23, will begin the year at Durham, and Leonard, 20, who made his pro debut last season at the rookie level, is still a few years away.

Myers is the one who is expected to make the quickest impact, eventually filling the void in the outfield created when center fielder B.J. Upton left in free agency.

"I'm definitely excited about the opportunity ahead for me," Myers said.

A 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-hander with gap-to-gap power, Myers hit .314 last season with 37 home runs, a .387 on-base percentage and a .600 slugging percentage. He batted .303 with 64 home runs, a .395 on-base percentage and .522 across four minor league seasons.

"You look at this numbers coming up through the minor leagues and you say this kid profiles as a high-end major league hitter," Rays infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist said. "You don't want to put too much pressure on him coming in, but this is his opportunity. He's going to get an opportunity here."

Myers, drafted as a catcher, has played third base, right field and center field. He said he enjoys playing the outfield and would prefer center if given the choice.

Jirschele said it wasn't a hard transition. The manager compared Myers to Alex Gordon, who came up through the Royals system as a third baseman and was moved to left field during his fourth big league season and has since won a pair of Gold Gloves.

"(Myers) can play infield, he can play outfield, but it's learning the game, learning that position," Jirschele said. "You look at the move Alex Gordon made going from third base to the outfield, it took him a little time out there and since then he's won a couple of Gold Gloves. And I look at Wil as an athletic person like Alex."

While Odorizzi said Myers' defense is an often overlooked part of his game, it is his bat that forced the Rays to pay such a steep price.

"First of all he's got tools," Jirschele said. "He doesn't let things bother him. When he has a bad day he doesn't carry it over to the next day. He doesn't carry it over from at-bat to at-bat. Lots of confidence. A kid that, he doesn't care who's standing on the hill. He doesn't care if it's Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, it doesn't matter. He knows he can hit 'em."


rmooney@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7227 Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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