FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Royals needed a starting pitcher. The Tampa Bay Rays needed an outfielder. Wil Myers needed some downtime.
By DAVID DORSEY
Special to The Star
Myers, one of baseballs best outfield hitting prospects, was watching TV with his girlfriend in his hometown of Thomasville, N.C., when his phone began to buzz on Dec. 9.
I got a phone call around 10:30 at night, Myers said.
J.J. Picollo, the Royals assistant general manager in charge of scouting and player development, informed Myers that he had been traded to the Rays, swapped for starting pitcher James Shields as part of a blockbuster seven-player deal.
Myers, the reigning minor league player of the year and No. 4 prospect entering 2013, according to Baseball America, said the news didnt really hit him until he visited Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., for a minicamp.
I was in a different locker room, new jersey, new people, Myers said. But I think it was a good trade for both teams.
Myers said he would have liked to have remained a Royal. Now, he said hes glad to be a Ray. But when the regular season begins, Myers likely will be a Bull.
The Rays have sent Myers signals that he will begin this season in the minors for the Class AAA Durham (N.C.) Bulls, a team based 75 miles from his hometown.
I go to Triple-A, thats OK, Myers said. Its no big deal. Its right near my home. So Ill go to Triple-A. Ill do what I can. Ill just play my game, and whatever happens, happens.
Myers started his second of back-to-back spring training road trips Tuesday in Fort Myers. He went one for two with a walk and a strikeout during an 8-5 victory against the Minnesota Twins.
Why would you want him to come up here and struggle and lose some confidence? Rays manager Joe Maddon said of rushing Myers to the big leagues. You want to make sure. Lets get it right the first time. You dont want to have to piece him together after they blow up the first time. Its not easy.
Maddon said Myers looked like an even better player than was indicated on some of the scouting reports. But the player and team are still learning about each other.
When Myers made his Grapefruit League debut with the Rays, he started and went zero for one with a walk.
Overall, I was a little nervous, Myers said. I was a little too anxious at the plate, but overall, I felt like it went well my first game. There were new fans in the stands. New jerseys. It kind of got to me a little bit, but I think thats to be expected a little bit.
Expectations remain high for Myers, 22. He hit a combined .314 with 26 doubles, 37 home runs, 109 RBIs and six stolen bases last season for Class AA Northwest Arkansas and Class AAA Omaha in his last season with the Royals organization.
The Royals selected Myers in the third round of the 2009 draft out of Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, N.C.
The numbers put up by Myers in the minors resemble those of a superstar in the making. But Myers said he doesnt want to be compared to breakout stars such as the Nationals Bryce Harper or the Angels Mike Trout. I dont want to really compare myself to anybody, Myers said. I feel like if I go out there and do what Im capable of doing, everything will turn out well.
The trade came about not because the Rays coveted Myers, Tampa general manager Andrew Friedman said, but because the team wanted to take advantage of a pitching surplus by shopping Shields.
Shields, 31, went 15-10 with a 3.52 ERA last season and made the American League All-Star team in 2011.
We had some depth in pitching, Friedman said. It wasnt as much us targeting Wil as us having different conversations with different teams about James Shields. As we were going through things with Kansas City, we wanted Wil Myers to be a part of the deal in order for us to do something with them.
Hes obviously still very young. We watched a lot of video. We read a lot of scouting reports. We talked to a lot of scouts who had watched him play. We watched the way he prepared. We liked his aptitude. Were excited about what hes capable of doing at the major league level. But were still in the beginning stages of getting to know him.
Friedman said he wanted to tone down the standard Myers set last season and the expectations that come with being the focal point of a trade.
I think its human nature to put more pressure on yourself to try to show the team that acquired you, to show the fans, Friedman said. What Ive said to these guys is just to be themselves. Thats the reason we acquired them, not to do more than what theyre capable of. We know what he can do. Just relax and enjoy the process.
Myers said he viewed the Royals as a great organization but said hes happy to have landed with another one.
This is a great organization, Myers said of the Rays. When I first got here, I felt like I met everybody who was here. All the coaches are very approachable. It just seems like a good atmosphere here.