Outfielder deemed ready, will join club for series opener at Fenway Park
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays said they would wait until a spot opened up in their everyday lineup, unless Wil Myers forced the issue.
They would wait until he was ready to play every day, and they would not let him waste away on their bench. They didn't want Myers to come up in a moment of offensive weakness, when the already sky-high expectations would turn him into a savior rather than a 22-year-old rookie. They answered question after question at every turn since Spring Training about when this moment would come.
The Rays called up Myers, their No. 1 prospect, in advance of Tuesday's doubleheader against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. He will meet the team in Boston and wear No. 9. To make room for Myers on the active roster, second baseman Ryan Roberts was optioned to Triple-A Durham.
Myers, MLB.com's No. 4 overall prospect, was hitting 286 with 14 home runs, 13 doubles, 29 walks and 57 RBIs in 63 games for Durham entering Sunday. He's been even better as of late, hitting .354 with 10 homers, seven doubles and 32 RBIs over his last 23 games.
In short, the Rays felt the time was right.
"It's something that we've been deliberating for a while, and his recent hot streak certainly accelerated the conversations," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "As we've talked about since Spring Training, when we felt like he was ready, it would be important to auger out a spot for him. Over the last week, we spent a lot more time thinking about it, talking about it, and we felt like injecting one more bat against right-handed pitching that we felt like had a chance to do some damage was something that we wanted to do. We think he'll fit right in with our group and be one of nine in our offensive unit to score runs."
Myers will play regularly for Tampa Bay, most likely in right field. Manager Joe Maddon said he will bat lower in the lineup at first to remove some of the pressure that will follow him no matter how often the Rays try to combat it.
Of course, it does help that the Rays have turned out to be a better offensive team than expected, even if they've struggled recently. They've scored 4.83 runs per game this season, receiving production at various points of the year from just about everyone in their lineup. Myers won't have to be a middle-of-the-order run producer for the Rays to succeed -- at least not yet.
"I think that's important. I think the biggest thing is to just bring him up, let him fit in, be one of nine. The fact that we have been scoring runs is good," Friedman said. "To be able to add him into that and just be a piece of the puzzle here is something that's critical. I don't know that we would've done this if we were struggling. It's hard to answer. But we felt like now was the right time."
Maddon said he hadn't yet thought out exactly how adding Myers will affect the rest of Tampa Bay's lineup and defensive alignment. It would seem likely, however, that Matt Joyce will play left field against right-handed starters, allowing Ben Zobrist to play more at second base. Kelly Johnson could also figure into the mix at either position, and he even got a brief test this weekend at third base, where Roberts was essentially Longoria's backup.
"We went through it ad nauseum and talked through a bunch of different scenarios," Friedman said regarding the decision to option Roberts, who was hitting .238/.294/.349 in 47 games this season. "It certainly wasn't an easy decision, but we do have versatility."
And Myers did force the issue, as it turned out. Friedman went to Durham to watch him play for five days last month and came away impressed, obviously, with his offensive improvements but also with his play on defense and his ability running the bases. Friedman mentioned several times that Myers has gotten better against right-handed pitching and that some of his early season struggles should serve him well in the long run.
Friedman noted that Myers was getting pitched backwards and had to figure out how to change his approach accordingly. He wasn't organizing his strike zone or swinging at pitches that allowed him to utilize his impressive power. Myers wasn't, at least, until he started putting up the kind of numbers that made him the headliner of the package the Rays received last winter in exchange for James Shields, Wade Davis and Elliot Johnson.
"He made some real adjustments in the last six weeks," Friedman said. "That really stood out to us, and that was something that we were really monitoring very closely."
Of course, it seems everyone has been monitoring Myers closely. When Tampa Bay acquired him in an offseason trade with Kansas City, fans wanted to know when he would break into the Majors. Whenever a Rays hitter would fall into a slump, the questions about Myers would start up again. They intensified even more lately, with speculation that the Super Two deadline had passed, giving the Rays a seventh year of team control over Myers if they called him up.
The Rays are well aware of the expectations being placed on Myers, whether they're fair or not for a 22-year-old who's spent just over a year at Triple-A. They'll get their first chance to see how he handles them on Tuesday.
"Just come and play, be a 22-year-old in the big leagues. I mean that sincerely. You're not going to hear a lot of the high expectations coming from this particular desk or this chair," Maddon said. "I want him to play. I want him to be a Ray. I want him to run hard to first base. I want him to try to do the right things on the field, continue to work on his defense, try to improve his baserunning.
"We try to grow a complete ballplayer around here, and I think that's what he's turning out to be."