Thursday, February 3, 2011

Royals Switch Wil Myers to Outfield

Wil Myers burst onto the prospect scene in 2010 with a monster season split between two levels of A ball and now the Royals have made a decision that should expedite the progress of his bat to the Major League level by switching him away from catcher. The concern for the Royals was that if they had left him at catcher, it would've taken at least three years for his defense - widely considered to be subpar - to be Major League ready. That time line could now potentially be moved to just one or two years depending on how successful he is in 2011. Moving Myers to the outfield will not only speed his progression to the Majors, it will also allow him to play more games, and therefor have a larger overall impact with his bat. Catchers generally need more rest than other players due to the demanding nature of the position, and they're also more susceptible to injury.

The move is not without downside however. By switching Myers to right field, the Royals are without a doubt lowering his value as a commodity. If that doesn't make sense, think of it this way - it is much rarer to find a catcher who can hit, than a right fielder (Myers likely position) who can hit. Consider the 2010 league average OPS by position;

RF: .783
C: .699

This risk comes in how Myers develops. For him to be a high-end catcher, he wouldn't necessarily need to reach his maximum potential with his bat - a .850 OPS makes you an elite offensive catcher. A .850 OPS as a right fielder however, just makes you good. The flip side of the value equation is that it only comes in to play when it comes time for a player to get paid - and if Myers' value isn't as great as a right fielder, it would have the benefit of making him easier to retain someday.

So the value could be seen as a positive of negative depending on how you want to look at it.

As we noted when we examined Myers earlier in the year, he still has weaknesses that he'll need to iron out offensively. His strikeout rate is still higher than you'd ideally like to see, and that added to some extraordinarily high BABIP marks (.411!!!! in A+) gives me pause when it comes to projecting his ability to hit for average. Thankfully he should draw enough walks and hit for enough power to offset some of his swing-and-miss tendencies.

Myers will also have the added challenge of mastering a new position. The Royals had Myers working in the outfield in instructs this off season and that should prove helpful as he readies himself for the 2011 season, but he's still going to have a lot of work to do. Though as we heard in our interview with Tigers prospect Daniel Fields, sometimes a move to the outfield can actually prove helpful as a player might have fewer things to work on. That could certainly be the case for Myers.

Myers will be just 21 as he opens the 2011 season at AA. If everything goes well, he'll likely spend the first half of the year there before a midseason callup to AAA - and maybe even a September promotion to the Majors. Though that would be a needlessly aggressive move by the Royals given that it would start his arbitration clock and take away from his ability to play every day. A more realistic timeline now has him reaching the Majors at some point 2012 (age 23) which is probably one year earlier than would've as a catcher.

I'm not certain the benefit of getting Myers to the Majors one season earlier is really that terribly valuable to the Royals. While they'll have debuted a number of their promising young prospects, odds are that they will still be a year or two from competing. It also raises questions about who the Royals would look at for their catching needs long-term. The top prospect in the system is probably Salvador Perez, a 20 year old who's defense is well regarded, but who has little chance of being even a league average offensive catcher.

This is a move that's been expected by a lot of people for some time, but I always held out hope the Royals would delay the decision longer. Lets hope it works out well and that Myers is an elite bat rather than just a very good one.

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