Friday, June 21, 2013

The Martyrdom of Saint Wil

I swear, you'd think they were gonna kill him.

That smile says "Send Help!"
For the last couple of months, one of the recurring themes amongst baseball types was the way in which Wil Myers was being kept against his will in the desolate hell-hole called Durham, North Carolina. To hear the way the seamheads put it, Myers was "trapped" in Cackalacky by the heartless and foolish Rays front office. Presumably, he was also being flogged regularly, fed nothing but gruel, and guest-starring on episodes of Beyond Scared Straight. No doubt the poor kid spent his days here digging his way out of the home clubhouse at the DBAP, possibly in the direction of Bull City Burger and Brewery, and covering up the hole with a tattered Rita Hayworth poster.

Myers, of course, is the uberprospect the Rays extracted from the last days of Dayton Moore's reign of error in Fredonia, aka Kansas City's farm system, and he has that sort of shiny new prospect smell that makes talent evaluators and sabermetric wonks alike giddy. (Note to you guys - that stuff is just outgassing VOCs, even when it's coming off a guy with a plus power tool and solid hit tool.) He walloped 37 homers and slugged .600 last year, and considering the fact that the Rays normally hit like a stoned Muppet, it seemed logical that he'd start the year in right field for Tampa.
Except, of course, service time. By keeping him down in the minors long enough that Myers would miss the dreaded "Super Two" cutoff and thus not become arbitration eligible for an extra year, the Rays saved themselves roughly a metric crap-ton of money - always useful for a franchise stuck playing in a flying saucer for 17K people every night. Of course, by doing so the Rays are balancing the extra production they might have gotten from Myers versus the added benefit of another year of him under team control; what they risked was the guys they used as a Myers replacement being bad enough to cost the team games. In this case, the primary suspect was rocket scientist Luke "Sabretooth" Scott, who has thus far OPS+ed 101, meaning he's at least been faintly positive productivity, and the Rays - who for some reason are knocking the cover off the ball this year - didn't actively damage themselves by seasoning Myers a little longer.
Needless to say,"we're keeping him down in the minors to artificially depress his earnings for a year" is the sort of comment that gets lawyers unholstered, so the Rays said all the right things when they put Myers on the bus to Durham: He needs to work on his defense, he needs to hit curveballs better, he needs to work on his baserunning.
All of these, surprisingly, turned out to be true. Despite arriving in a cloud of fanfare equal to the citizens of Rock Ridge waiting for their new sheriff - the Bulls' marketing department roped off a section of the stands as "Wilville", making t-shirts to commemorate it and everything - Myers was pretty awful at the start of the season. He did need to work on hitting curveballs. And cutting down strikeouts. You get the idea.
Then, a few weeks ago, he started to rake. Baseballs left the building in rapid succession. He corrected the bad foot plant Keith Law noticed earlier in the season. The folks in the sports bar behind the left field wall started getting souvenirs. The estimated cutoff for the Super 2 status got closer. And the national media lost its collective mind. The fact that Myers was not called up instantly once he was going good was a high crime and a couple of misdemeanors rolled into one. The speculation as to what Myers would do once unleashed in the Tampa Thunderdome reached outrageous proportions.
And then, finally, they called him up. In his first day of action as a major leaguer, he was clearly over-anxious, swinging at too many first pitches, trying to live up to all the hype in a single swing of the bat. Give him a 1-7 in a doubleheader, and let the national media throw their engines into reverse fast enough their engines pop out of their hoods. "Whoah," they say. "He might not be that good. Remember other prospects who didn't hit. Don't blame us if he bombs. And when are the Cardinals calling up Oscar Taveras, anyway?"
All of which proves nothing except that the national media has very short attention spans, and could use a good sitdown at Bull City B&B. Barring injury, Myers is probably going to be a very good player in the majors. But the Christmas present has been taken out from under the tree, and unless a rookie produces the Tecmo Bowl numbers of a Yasiel Puig, the realization is always less exciting than the actualization. The imagined prospect always trumps the real player. Whatever Myers does in the Show, it will be somehow lesser than the imagined feats of the titan who was chained, like Prometheus, along Rte 147.
In the meantime, Oscar Taveras awaits.

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