Move to outfield should get Myers to KC sooner
Top prospect trading in 'tools of ignorance' to focus on hitting
KANSAS CITY -- After an unusually warm Sunday afternoon, Wil Myers was just off the golf course at Grandover Resort in Greensboro, N.C.
"I'm pretty good," he said over the phone. "It's like my favorite thing to do."
Except for, of course, hitting baseballs.
And that's what Myers will concentrate on doing this season, as the Royals move the 20-year-old prized prospect from the catching position to the outfield.
The move was made public just after Myers was named the game's No. 2 catching prospect this month by MLB.com. But it was a change that had been under consideration for a while.
"The question came up, 'Is this the best spot for him if he's that good of a hitter?'" said J.J. Picollo, the Royals' assistant general manager of scouting and player development.
The answer was no -- that he'd likely progress faster as a hitter and help the Major League Royals sooner as an outfielder.
"I think long-term it's the best step for me -- and also the Royals," Myers said.
Myers is a powerful right-handed batter, at a time the Royals are strongest from the left side, and he's done well. Most notably, he finished last season by hitting .346 with 24 extra-base hits and 38 RBIs in 58 games for Advanced Class A Wilmington.
The Royals had figured on making a decision on a position change after this season.
"But with the year he had offensively, he forced our hand a little bit quicker," Picollo said.
A third-round choice in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Myers played several positions for Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, N.C. But the Royals, rather thin on catching, used him at that spot in 86 of the 148 games he's played since signing late in the summer of '09. Myers was also used as a designated hitter, a spot he didn't particularly enjoy because he likes playing a position.
"I liked always being in the game," he said. "When I was catching, I was able to see what the umpire was calling all the time, see what people were pitching. They say catching takes away from your bat, but to be honest, I think it helped to be able to see what umpires [call], what kind of pitches pitchers like to throw in certain counts. My favorite part of catching was that it just kind of helped me learn to be a better hitter."
Myers spent the first part of last season at Class A Burlington, Iowa, and he got off to a slow start. Swinging at virtually everything, his strikeouts soared way over his bases on balls. Then, he got more patient. He finished his 68 Burlington games with a .289 average and .408 on-base percentage.
The Royals still believe Myers has the tools to be a good catcher, but as Picollo phrased it, "His bat is his best tool." And they figured his bat would suffer if, playing at Double-A Northwest Arkansas this year, he had to worry about game-calling and blocking balls -- and the bruises and all that goes with catching.
As Myers put it: "You shouldn't even have to worry about hitting when you catch. All you need to worry about is catching. And my main thing is hitting. I'm not a big defensive specialist."
So he'll be used in the outfield, probably at all three positions, but with the idea that he'll become a right fielder. As a hitter, the Royals see rapid progress ahead.
"I think it's going to be a similar path that Billy [Butler] took," Picollo said. "He's going to hit a lot of doubles, gap-to-gap. He has the power to hit the ball out, but it's something that's going to develop in time. He's more of a pull-oriented guy right now -- and that's going to hurt because, especially at the Double-A level, they'll pitch him away. That'll cut down on his home-run production until he shows other teams that he can consistently hit the ball up the middle or the other way."
The outfield isn't new to Myers.
"When I was growing up, that was the only position I played. I was the center fielder from Little League to eighth grade. Then I hit my growth spurt and kind of got really slow, so I moved to the infield," Myers said. "I was like 5-foot-6, with a size 13 shoe."
Now, he's an angular 6-4 and 211 pounds, just back from three weeks of intense workouts with trainers in Florida. Before that, he was schooled at the Royals' complex in Arizona by outfield instructor Rusty Kuntz.
With Myers switching to the outfield, the Royals' top catching prospects are Manny Pina, 23, and Salvador Perez, 20. Pina, after two solid seasons at the Double-A level, is on the Major League roster as the third catcher behind Brayan Pena and Lucas May. Perez is coming off a bounce-back season with Wilmington.
"Salvador Perez has really kind of jumped to the forefront. He's can really catch and throw. He's got great leadership skills, blocks extremely well, throws extremely well," Picollo said. "But the biggest jump Salvador made last year was with his bat. He hit .290 in the Carolina League, coming off a year where we actually had to move him back from the Midwest League to the Pioneer League."
On the subject of switching positions, Picollo said that Christian Colon, the Royals' top choice in the 2010 Draft, would remain at shortstop this year. There had been speculation that he might be moved to second base -- especially after the Royals got shortstop Alcides Escobar from Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke deal.
"We don't think it's the right time to make a move on Colon," Picollo said. "He needs to go out and play shortstop, and progress offensively. If Escobar's all we think he's going to be, then we've got to make a decision."
But the decision has been made on Myers. The outfield beckons -- and he's eager. Even though he played golf on Sunday, he's cut back on that game to prepare for Spring Training.
"It's a big season for me and I've got to get going," he said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.