Back in the 2009 MLB Draft, the Kansas City Royals took Wil Myers in the 3rd round out of Wesleyan Christian Academy, located in High Point, North Carolina. Drafted as a catcher, Myers received a $2 million signing bonus as the 91st pick, higher than all but one pick from #’s 21-100. He was viewed as one of the better talents heading into the ’09 draft, however, his price tag scared off many teams. Baseball America described Myers as an extremely athletic kid with a very gifted bat and smooth swing.1 He even drew comparisons to Atlanta Braves’ two-time MVP Dale Murphy.
Myers never disappointed after getting drafted. He played well in rookie ball after being drafted in 2009 and followed that season up with a monstrous 2010 campaign where he hit .315/.429/.506 with 14 HR, 83 RBI, 37 2B, 85 BB, and 94 K in 126 across A-ball. This certainly put him on the radar, as Baseball America rated him the 10th best prospect in baseball heading into 2011, while Baseball Prospectus ranked him 13th.
The catcher-turned-outfielder struggled for the first time in his early career in 2011, only managing a .254/.353/.393 slash in Double-A. He did only play 99 games due to a knee contusion/laceration/infection, which more than likely hindered his play that season. Healthy once again, Myers went onto rake in 2012 between AA and AAA. He hit .314/.387/.600 with 37 HR, 109 RBI, 26 2B, 61 BB, and 140 K in 134 games, and later went on to win the Minor League Player of the Year award.
However, Myers (along with Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard) was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis that offseason, in a deal where many were critical of what the Royals were doing. Myers started the season in Triple-A where he amassed a relatively high strikeout total (24.6%), yet continued with his strong stat line from the previous season, hitting .286/.356/.520 with 14 HR and 57 RBI in 64 games.
Myers was finally called up on June 18th, 2013 and did not disappoint. After hitting .288/.321/.413 with 3 HR and 15 RBI in 26 games prior to the All-Star Break, the rookie went on to hit .294/.368/.506 with 10 HR, 38 RBI, and 19 2B in 62 games to end the season, eventually leading to Rookie of the Year honors.
At this point in time, everyone was high on Myers. Who wouldn’t be? He was a top prospect in the game for years, finally got his call to the Majors, and won Rookie of the Year at 22 years young. He was now expected to be a perennial All-Star who could compete for an MVP award or two while leading the Rays to the promise land.
As we all know by now, that was not the case. In 2014, after struggling at the plate to begin the season, Myers suffered a stress fracture in his wrist. Prior to the injury, he was only hitting .227/.313/.354. Once he came back from the injury on August 20th, the results were the same and he finished the season slashing .222/.294/.320 with 6 HR and 35 RBI in 87 games.
A change in Rays’ management saw Myers dealt once again, this time to the San Diego Padres. It seemed as if Myers found his stroke again to start the season, however this time he hit the DL with wrist tendonitis. Once he returned for the DL, Myers only played in three games until he needed to have surgery on that same wrist, which sidelined him until September. In the 60 games he did play in 2015, he hit .253/.336/.427 with an OPS+ of 113 – all encouraging signs.
It has been pretty obvious that multiple wrist injuries have hampered Myers’ growth and production during his early career in the Majors, but the 2016 All-Star has been more than just healthy this season. On top of hitting .286/.351/.522 with 19 HR and 60 RBI to start the season, he has made changes at the plate which have made these results much more attainable.
Let’s first look at his swing percentage chart – a chart that shows how often a hitter swings at a pitch in a certain location. I have provided a GIF below that starts in 2013 and works its way up to the current season.
Here, you will see quite a different approach to the plate. When Myers broke into the league in 2013, he loved chasing pitches that were high and in on his hands. But year after year, you see him swinging less at pitches up and above the zone and bringing it down to the middle of the plate. Once you reach 2016, you see that Myers is primarily swinging at pitches middle-in. He has begun to lay off pitches in the upper part of the zone and has made an effort to only go after pitches right in the heart of the plate. That is a recipe for success. In an article I wrote a little over a month ago about Gregory Polanco you can see that Polanco has begun to do the same thing as Myers. Once a guy who swung often at pitches high and in, the Pirates’ outfielder now focuses on pitches lower and over the middle of the plate. With the change in strategy, now both of these two players are seeing much more productive seasons at the plate.
Not only has Myers changed his selectivity at the plate, he has started to hit to all parts of the field now.
The first visual shows Myers’ spray chart from 2013-2015 and to the right of it is his spray chart from this season. Directly beneath is a neat little graph from FanGraphs that shows where he has hit the ball throughout his career. As you can see, there has been quite a bit of change since entering the league. Once predominately a pull-hitter, Myers actually hits the ball more up the middle as of this year. My theory is that this has a lot to do with his selectivity at the plate. Instead of swinging at pitches high and in, which would naturally be pulled, he’s swinging at pitches in the middle of the plate, which turn into shots up the middle. Myers will see much more success in his future if he continues to spray the ball to all parts of the field.
Not only have we seen a different approach at the plate from the North Carolina native, he has also introduced a subtle leg kick that he hasn’t used in the past. During an interview on Tuesday before the All-Star game with Greg Amsinger and Harold Reynolds, Myers mentioned that he began using a more pronounced leg kick starting in early June. Let’s take a look. The first GIF is from April 27th, 2016 and the second gif is from June 6th, 2016.
If Myers would not have mentioned anything in his interview, I probably would not have caught this. As you can see, in just a matter of two weeks, Myers goes from a more conventional toe-tap to a leg kick. While it is no Jose Bautista leg kick, it is certainly a change in his mechanics prior to swinging. In his first 51 games to start the season, Myers hit .264/.302/.418 with 8 2B and 7 HR. However, after implementing the leg kick, those numbers have gone through the roof. In just 36 games beginning June 1st, Myers has slashed an impressive .319/.415/.674 with 11 2B and 12 HR. Now that is quite a difference. While he has made adjustments in his plate selectivity (which has certainly helped), his newfound leg kick has shown fantastic results.
But wait, there’s more! While I’m done talking about Myers at the plate, two other aspects of his game have improved as well – defense and base running. Predominately a right fielder since entering the league, Myers was a notch below league average. With the Rays, he saw a meager 0.4 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) and a not so pretty negative-11 defensive runs saved. Once he arrived in San Diego, by default, he became their center fielder – which was a disaster. In less than 300 innings, Myers posted a negative-8.7 UZR and negative-7 defensive runs saved. Now no one ever believed he was going to be a Gold Glove outfielder, but Preller and Co. figured he would be better than Justin Upton and Matt Kemp (which is probably right).
So, maybe the whole outfield thing wasn’t for him. Growing up, Myers played almost every position and played primarily in the infield before being drafted. With that being said, the Padres gave him some time at 1st base last year. That stance continued into this season and Myers has seen wonderful results, posting a 7.1 UZR and four defensive runs saved (6th among first baseman). On top of having the best hitting season of his career, he is having the best defensive season of his career.
But no, it does not end there! Guess who has 15 stolen bases and is first among first baseman and an outstanding 11th in the league in that category? You may never have guessed, but it is Wil Myers. He has more stolen bases than Billy Burns, Francisco Lindor, Brett Gardner, and Gregory Polanco. After stealing a total of 16 bags in 235 games entering the season, this guy is now on pace to steal 27 bases! The last first baseman to steal that many bags was Lance Berkman, who stole 30 back in 1999.
Lastly, the former 3rd round draft pick ranks 8th in BsR. Now there are not many calculations or formulas out there that can determine a player’s impact on the base paths, but FanGraphs has the best option out there. This formula “turns stolen bases, caught stealings, and other base running plays (taking extra bases, being thrown out on the bases, etc) into runs above and below average”. With that being said, Myers has been one of the best baserunners in the league this year, only trailing players like Mookie Betts, Starling Marte, and Mike Trout. Not bad company!
Depending on what site you look at, Myers ranks 13th in WAR (hitters on FanGraphs). That’s extremely impressive for a guy who many overlooked entering the season. Hopefully, the improvements the San Diego first baseman has made in every aspect of his game (plus his clean bill of health) can continue for the rest of the season and his career.
Wil Myers Baseball America Scouting Report – http://www.baseballamerica.com/online/draft/draft-preview/2009/268184.html ↩