Wil Myers made headlines last year before the season even started.
During the offseason, the Kansas City Royals sent Myers, fresh off a 37-homer season in the minor leagues, and three other prospects to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.
In Myers’ first year with his new organization, the outfielder needed just a few months at the Triple-A level before receiving the call to join the Rays in mid-June. From that point on, Myers was one of the more productive rookies in the major leagues, and he was ultimately named the American League Rookie of the Year after batting .293 with 13 home runs and 53 RBI in 88 games.
However, with Myers now entering his sophomore season, the pressure is on the 23-year-old to build off his impressive rookie campaign.
So, what should we expect from Myers in 2014?
2013 in Review
When Myers was promoted to the major leagues on June 18, the Rays owned a 36-35 record and trailed the New York Yankees (38-31) by three games for the second AL Wild Card.
By the end of July, however, the club was 20 games over .500 with a 64-44 overall record and a half-game back of the Boston Red Sox for a share of the AL East lead.
In his first 36 games in The Show, the 22-year-old outfielder guided the Rays to an MLB-best 25-11 record thanks to a .331/.372/.528 batting line with seven home runs and 27 RBI.
Overall, the club posted a 52-36 record this season with the rookie in the lineup.
Though he played in only 88 regular-season games following his call-up, Myers still led all American League rookies, according to FanGraphs, in doubles (23), RBI (53), on-base percentage (.354), slugging percentage (.478), wOBA (.357) and wRC+ (131). As if those numbers weren’t already impressive, he also ranked second in batting average (.293), runs scored (50) and home runs (13). And just for good measure, Myers added a 12-game hitting streak and 22-game on-base streak to his Rookie of the Year resume along the way.
Myers also showed a flair for the dramatic with 14 go-ahead hits this year, including a walk-off single against the San Francisco Giants on Aug. 3.
Room for Improvement
Myers has been regarded as a streaky hitter since his breakout 2012 campaign in the minor leagues, as both his spring and approach have made him prone to extreme cold and hot spells at the plate.
The final two months of the 2013 regular season provide a perfect example of Myers’ streakiness. In August, the 22-year-old posted a .631 OPS with 29 strikeouts in 24 games for the Rays, but then returned to form the following month with a .904 OPS, 17 extra-base hits and 14 RBI in 28 games.
When Myers falls into one of his funks at the plate, the right-handed hitter is usually swinging at and through too many breaking balls, especially those outside of the zone. Based on Brooks Baseball’s data for Myers’ month of August last year, we see that he made consistent contact with breaking balls within the strike zone but frequently whiffed on those pitches considered off the plate.
However, Myers successfully eliminated some of the swing-and-miss from his game in September by taking a more passive approach against breaking balls, which in turn resulted in a lower whiff rate against them over the final month of the regular season:
Lastly, Myers needs to prove moving forward that he can be a consistent middle-of-the-order threat for the Rays, and not just a streaky hitter manager Joe Maddon must cater to on a game-to-game basis.
Last season, Myers batted .308 with nine home runs and 36 RBI collectively between the 3-4-5 spots in the Rays order, which accurately reflects his enormous potential when he’s firing on all cylinders. When batting elsewhere in the order, Myers batted .270 with four home runs, 17 RBI and 42 strikeouts.
After surpassing expectations last season and capturing the AL Rookie of the Year award, Myers has set the bar high for his sophomore campaign.
But what can we realistically expect from the 23-year-old in 2014?
Well, according to the two main projection models, Myers is likely to regress slightly this season—especially in the batting average department—which was to be expected after he posted a .362 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) as a rookie.
Even though his batting average is expected to take a hit this season, Myers’ projected power numbers are right where they should be—and could be even better should he spend a majority of the year hitting in the heart of the Rays’ order.
Provided he continues to improve his approach and eliminates some of the aforementioned swing-and-miss from his game, Myers’ huge offensive potential should help him emerge as one of the sports’ premier outfielders this season and for many years to come.