It took five at-bats, but Wil Myers wouldn't have wanted his first professional hit to come any other way.
On Thursday night at Burlington Athletic Stadium, no more than 45 minutes away from Myers' hometown of Thomasville, N.C., the 18-year-old catcher played in his second game for Rookie-level Burlington. The first had been as a DH. Slotted fifth in the Royals' order, the righthanded-hitting Myers didn't get a chance to bat in the first inning.
But as the second hitter of the second inning, Myers turned on an up-and-in, 91 mph fastball from Johnson City righthander Zach Russell and deposited it well over the left field fence. The confrontation played out thusly: He took a first-pitch fastball, check-swung at a curveball in the dirt and then took a fastball away. Russell actually held a 1-2 advantage when he threw his fourth pitch to Myers.
Not for long.
"I got the barrel out on the ball and it went," Myers said. "My wheelhouse is actually low and in. I like to drop the barrel on the ball. But I couldn't have drawn it up any better."
With first-round pick Aaron Crow not subject to Monday's signing deadline because he played in the independent American Association, Myers is Kansas City's top 2009 pick who is playing professionally. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound catcher was the Royals' third-round selection, whom they signed with an above-slot $2 million bonus. Myers was widely considered as one of the top prep hitting prospects.
In Myers' first minor league game on Wednesday, he went 0-for-4 against Pulaski. He went 1-for-4 on Thursday. In his other at-bats, Myers hit a broken-bat groundout to first base on an outside fastball, a hard-hit groundout to short on a curveball and a double-play groundout on a fastball.
Myers was patient at the plate, trying to work the count into his favor by taking the first pitch in each at-bat. He carries the hard-nosed catcher mentality with him to the plate, as he doesn't wear batting gloves and doesn't tape his fingers. Even though he grounded out three times, Myers made solid contact in each of his trips to the plate.
It was also Myers' first game behind the plate and he caught 2008 third-round pick Tyler Sample, who flashes an 89-92 mph fastball and an 82-84 curveball.
"He's a good pitcher, definitely better than all of the high school pitchers I caught," Myers said. "It's just like hitting, you've got to get used to the good pitching. The ball moves a lot more."
Myers allowed one passed ball, an up-and-away fastball that he only got the edge of his glove on. He blocked two pitches, both fastballs, in the dirt, but didn't stay low to the ground in the execution, sliding his feet well but not dropping to his knees. Myers allowed one stolen base in one attempt, fumbling the exchange on an outside pitch.
Though Myers' contract and signing bonus details were not officially announced until just before Monday's midnight deadline, he has been working out with Burlington since late June to stay in playing shape. After reaching a preliminary agreement with Kansas City, Myers was not allowed to play because of MLB's stance on over-slot figures. The team's front office also didn't want Myers' contract to be a bargaining point for other players.
The delay meant that Myers had not had a live at-bat since May 7, the last game of his senior year at Wesleyan Christian Academy.
"It kind of felt weird walking up to the box for the first time (Wednesday)," Myers said.
But the fact that Myers was away from the game for three months didn't make Johnson City manager Mike Shildt forget about him. On several occasions—including the ninth inning, with a runner on first in a two-run game—Shildt went out to speak with his pitcher about approaching Myers. After the home run, Myers saw a heavy dose of outer-half fastballs and offspeed pitches.
"I talked to the team's hitting coordinator, and he said usually they don't do that in (the Appalachian League), but it kind of reminded me of high school a little bit," Myers said. "I guess that makes me feel good that they respect me as a hitter and a baseball player to throw curveballs early in the count and not give me much to hit."
Myers won't get to experience Appy League pitchers much longer. On Sunday, Myers is moving to Idaho Falls, home of the Royals' third Rookie-level affiliate, this in the Pioneer League. The Chukars' schedule extends through Sept. 11, 10 days after the Appy League season ends. For Myers, it won't be as close to home, but he has something else to look forward to.
"I heard the air is real thin and the ball travels well, so I was real excited when I heard that," Myers said. "I hope I hit a few more home runs."