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November 26, 2012

Painting the Black

What's Wrong With Wil Myers?

by R.J. Anderson

Prior to last week’s holiday, Ben Lindbergh chronicled Justin Upton’s life and times as a walking trade rumor. A new rumor popped up no later than hours after publication, continuing a cycle that has no end is in sight. At some point, the Upton saga will reach its resolution. Upton will head to a new team or play well enough to become untouchable.  When that happens, the will-he-or-won’t-he trade drama may turn to Wil Myers as its new leading man.

For the second straight offseason, Myers’ name continues to pop up on MLB Trade Rumors. The Royals’ activity level is unclear. Jeff Passan used the verb “dangling,” while Bob Sutton pacified the outraged by indicating the Royals are only willing to listen. Read between the lines and it appears Myers is available, albeit at a high cost. In a sense, that leaves us where we were last winter, when talks between the Braves and Royals broke down over Myers’ inclusion.

Kansas City is unlikely to trade Myers for a multitude of reasons. Even with the caveat, the potential of a trade does merit consideration. Were the Royals to trade Myers this winter, how would it affect the perception of him, and of the club? In Lindbergh’s piece, he included a Buster Olney tweet. Olney suggested executives were wondering why the Diamondbacks were pushing an Upton trade so hard. Arizona’s actions led them to ask of Upton, “What’s wrong?” That skepticism has a place in trade discussions involving Myers. Interested teams have to figure out why an organization intent on building through its own resources would trade a 21-year-old with Myers’ potential.

The answer typically revolves around character or injury concerns. Neither appears to be a landmine on Myers’ field. Our own Mark Anderson wrote about Myers’ makeup in January, stating that he “was putting in the work to try and stick behind the plate” and that “he religiously takes extra rounds of batting practice to refine his swing.” Similarly, nothing appears damning in Myers’ injury history. He missed time due to a knee infection in 2011, but that remains his only injury on record.

If not a character- or injury-based concern, then could there be something in Myers’ skill coercing the Royals toward a deal? Overlooked or understated flaws are exposed once the player hits the majors. For all the good about Myers’ offensive game—and there is a lot of good—there is some bad, too. Ask around for dirt on him and you’ll get comments about Myers’ passive approach. It just so happens that Jason Parks wrote about Myers’ flaw earlier in the year:

I can’t speak to the specific developmental plan the Royals have scripted for Myers, but you have to figure the 21-year-old outfielder will reach the Triple-A level at some point in 2012. It’s then that I’d like to see Myers up his intensity at the plate, taking advantage of pitches he can drive before the pitchers take advantage of him. Being patient has its advantages, especially against quality pitching: it can put you in favorable hitting situations, it can lead to walks, and it can force a pitcher to throw a lot of pitches while also disrupting the deception of sequence. But it can also make a hitter second-guess opportunities, especially if they come early in the count. Hitters like Myers are the opposite of complex league hitters, those that are taught to read and react, looking to drive fastballs early and often in counts. Myers has good pitch-recognition skills and can track a ball from release to glove better than a lot of major leaguers, but the best hitters also know when to attack; Myers can be a bit passive in that regard. At the higher levels, you either drive or you get driven, and without a little more intensity when the situation calls for it, Myers will remain a backseat hitter, waiting on the perfect opportunity to take the wheel. That type of approach, while applauded in certain situations, can get a young hitter run over.

Passivity is a valid concern, yet no one seems disillusioned by Myers’ approach. The Royals still promoted Myers to Triple-A, Parks still ranked Myers as the fourth-best prospect in baseball, and other teams are still showing interest. Maybe it’s because everyone is enamored with Myers’ physical gifts, simple swing, and potential. Every team thinks it can fix his flaws. If teams are concerned about the Royals’ willingness to trade Myers, they have not voiced those concerns publicly. The potential for asymmetrical information has not stopped teams from trading for top-10 prospects before anyhow. Since 1990, the oldest Baseball America list available, 23 prospects have been traded within three years of a top-10 ranking:

Player

Rank Year

Jesus Montero

2011

Colby Rasmus

2009

Delmon Young

2007

Cameron Maybin

2007

Andrew Miller

2007

Andy Marte

2005

Hanley Ramirez

2005

Joel Guzman

2005

Edwin Jackson

2004

Gavin Floyd

2003

Brandon Phillips

2003

Carlos Pena

2002

Juan Cruz

2002

Ruben Mateo

2000

Bruce Chen

1999

Brad Penny

1999

Matt Clement

1999

Paul Konerko

1998

Travis Lee

1998

Ruben Rivera

1997

Karim Garcia

1996

Brian Hunter

1995

Pedro Martinez

1992

 

Lindbergh and Sam Miller discussed teams’ new willingness to trade young players on Effectively Wild in early November. Miller credited the paradigm shift to the more easily defined value of pre-arbitration years, likening the decreasing information gap to Carfax.  Still, a trade for Myers would be rarer still. Although Myers would be the 24th top-10 prospect dealt within three years of the ranking, he would become the second player dealt before suiting up for the team he was with at the time of the ranking*.

*The other player who can claim that distinction is Brad Penny. Penny, then with the Diamondbacks, was the fifth-best prospect in spring 1999. Months later, the D’Backs sent Penny, Vladimir Nunez, and Abraham Nunez to the Marlins for Matt Mantei. Panned at the time, the trade looks worse in retrospect. Penny may not have turned into an ace, but Mantei struggled with his health and never became the D’Backs lockdown closer. 

A Myers trade may not tell us much about the player, given the mixed bag results of other top prospects dealt. But it may tell us more about the team. You can theorize why the Royals are willing to trade Myers in a few different ways: maybe they’re looking to take advantage of the seasons put forth by Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, or trying to capitalize on Giancarlo Stanton’s apparent removal from the trading block. The real motivation for moving Myers is probably the easiest explanation: Kansas City wants good pitching. To get good pitching, sometimes you have to give up good prospects, like Myers.

Dayton Moore and company might view Myers as a good player, a player with the potential to make the Royals look silly for trading him. But they might also view a Myers trade as a means to a larger end. By listening to offers on all of his players, Moore is acting like Irving Lazar and doing what good general managers do: gauging market value before making a move. Whether Moore’s learning will turn Myers into the new Justin Upton is to be seen.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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