Myers’ rise product of talent, hard work
Wil Myers wasn’t built to struggle on the baseball field.
Not mentally. Not physically.
That is the simple explanation why, two months after his ascension from the Durham Bulls to the Tampa Bay Rays, he is batting cleanup for a team that started Monday just one game off the American League East Division lead.
His .311 batting average and nine home runs lead all rookies in major league baseball this season. His 60 hits are second only to Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“If Wil is swinging the bat well, I don’t care what the scouting report is against him,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Myers’ journey to this lofty place at age 23, though, did include a rough patch not that long ago.
Starting this season with the Bulls, the Thomasville native found himself batting a mere .243 after 41 games. After hitting a combined 37 home runs in stops at Double-A and Triple-A a year ago, Myers had just four homers by the middle of May.
“I was really struggling pretty bad,” Myers said Monday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards before the Rays’ game with the Orioles. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
The answer came in Scranton, Penn. During a road trip to face the New York Yankees’ top farm team May 23-26, Bulls hitting coach Dave Myers (no relation) suggested a routine for Wil’s batting-cage work.
Wil Myers immediately felt something click.
“A lot of credit goes to Dave Myers there,” Wil Myers said. “He really helped me out a lot in everything I did. We came up with a hitting routine. That’s when I really could tell that my swing started to change for the better. I really think that helped me a lot figure things out.”
Wil Myers proceeded to return to his normal production, as the 2012 Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year hit .354 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs over a 23-game stretch from late May to mid-June.
He opted to keep all the details of that routine change to himself and Dave Myers.
“I don’t want to go through all of it,” Wil Myers said. “But (it’s) some things in the cage, a few more drills there that really carried over into the game.”
A few weeks into that streak, Wil Myers knew he was ready for a bigger challenge. On June 18, it came when the Rays made him a big-leaguer for the first time.
“To be honest, I thought I was big-league ready a couple of days before I got called up,” Myers said. “There was a stretch where I really got locked in, and I felt this is what it takes to make it in the big leagues. A couple of days later, I got the call up. It was one of those things where the timing was perfect.”
Maddon initially put Myers lower in the batting order at No. 6, but that didn’t last long.
Less than two weeks into his big league career, Myers found himself batting third in the order for a July 1 game at Houston. He drove in a run with a single but struck out three times in a 1-for-4 night.
“I struggled,” Myers said. “When I was hitting third, I wanted to do so good. It wasn’t that I had added pressure, it was more that I was amped up more than anything.”
Like he usually does on the baseball field, Myers figured things out. Now he’s a regular in the heart of Tampa Bays order, batting behind All-Star Evan Longoria.
Even though Myers was drafted by Kansas City and only joined the Rays via a trade in December, Maddon has seen enough of his makeup to confidently give him the challenge.
“The biggest thing for me with him is how he is,” Maddon said. “He is not overwhelmed, and that’s the part that’s the most interesting and that’s why I have so much confidence that he’ll continue to do well.”
Rays pitcher Chris Archer started the season with Myers in Durham and now shares a big-league clubhouse with him. Archer likes how Myers handled himself when things weren’t great with the Bulls.
“He knew he was good enough, and he stayed true to himself,” Archer said. “He continued to swing the bat, continued to work, continued to prepare and two months later, he’s one of the top candidates for Rookie of the Year in the big leagues. It was actually cool to see him struggle and get through it.”
Rays outfielder Jason Bourgeois also was Myers’ teammate in Durham this year. Having also played with Myers with Triple-A Omaha in 2012, Bourgeois knows Myers better than any of the Rays.
“Wil is a guy that never gets rattled,” Bourgeois said. “When I met him last year, it was like, ‘Ok do you really care?’ But he really has a quiet passionate sense about the game that a lot of people want to take as lackadaisical.
“He has plenty of skill and upside. Man, I don’t even think he knows. He has a chance to be really great.”
The word “great” always has been attached to Wil Myers on the baseball field. Now that he’s playing the game at its highest level, that statement remains true.
And he’s having the time of his life.
“You are playing against all these guys you’ve seen growing up,” Myers said. “You are on the field with them and competing against them. It’s a dream come true to say you have played here. It’s a lot of fun. We have a great group of guys. This team is a lot of fun.”