Royals Sticking With Myers Behind The Plate

Wil Myers seems split into two distinct baseball players.

There is Wil Myers at the plate, the prospect who makes the game look effortless, who doesn't wear batting gloves, whose coaches say they have yet to find a legitimate hole in his swing. And there is Wil Myers crouching behind the plate, the self-described raw player, "The Unnatural."

Since the Royals selected him in the third round last year, several members of the organization have called Myers, 19, the team's "catcher of the future." But, according to those same sources, Myers' inexperience at the position means he is about two years away from being a solid defensive player.

"It's the hardest position on the field to get used to and learn because you're involved in every play and the only real learning tool is experience," Myers said. "That's what it's going to take: time."

And patience, a virtue that can seem even more difficult when considering he is one of Kansas City's premier hitting prospects along with corner infielders Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. Myers was tabbed the Rookie-level Pioneer League's best prospect last year after batting .426/.488/.735 with four home runs in 68 at-bats.

He struggled with his patience and hit just .232 at low Class A Burlington in April this season before heating up in May and June. He hit .319 with six home runs over that strecth and was promoted to high Class A Wilmington with a .289/.408/.500 line.

"I shouldn't say it, but it seems like (hitting) comes easy to him," Wilmington manager Brian Rupp said. "He's able to make quick adjustments, figure out how guys are throwing him and able to square-up balls that I don't think a lot of kids his age are able to.

"And he's doing it in high-A baseball. It's impressive."

Making Strides

With his offense so advanced, Myers could transition to a less-demanding position and still compete for big league playing time in the next couple years. But, facing a similar dilemma the Nationals did when they drafted Bryce Harper as an outfielder in June, members of the Royals say they are committed to Myers as a catcher.

"I think we ride this thing as far as we can and see where it takes us," Rupp said. "But for right now, he's one of the hardest workers out here every day early doing something defensively and he's getting better every game. If that continues, we got a legit perennial all-star on our hands from behind the plate."

Myers, a lean prospect in high school, added 21 pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame in the offseason at the Athletes Compound in Saddlebrook Fla., the training center for fellow Creative Artist Agency clients Derek Jeter and Ryan Howard.

In addition to working out twice daily, Myers found himself splayed on a yoga mat a couple times a week, trying to loosen his hips. After last season, his first as a full-time catcher, Myers felt worn down.

"(The yoga) was big for me because now I'm not as sore,' he said. "My hips are loose and I'm able to move back there more."

After signing with the Royals last summer for $2 million out of Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, N.C., Myers started working with Royals catching coordinator Tony Tijerina in what the instructor called "Baseball 101." Tijerina started from scratch with Myers, reworking everything from the width of his stance to how he gave signs to pitchers.

During spring training, Ned Yost, a former big league catcher who's since taken over as the  Royals' manager, worked alongside Tijerina with the team's catchers. He taught them a blocking drill to be more comfortable stopping balls in the dirt, an area Myers still needs to improve.

In 47 games at Burlington, Myers allowed 17 passed balls. But his arm is strong and he has caught 34 percent of basestealers in two seasons, a number that will increase as he shortens his throwing motion.

"It was amazing to see how far he's come from his first day of training," Burlington manager Jim Gabella said. "Everything he's done has improved like night and day."

And while most of his defense has been a work in progress, Myers has excelled at calling pitches, an aspect Tijerina says is overlooked. Myers reviews scouting reports with Wilmington pitching coach Steve Luebber and has shown a good understanding of his own pitchers' strengths.

Staying On Track

While he agrees that Myers is probably about two years away from being a good defensive catcher, Tijerina said his path to the majors should not be compared to that of other catchers. Myers was unpolished when he was drafted, but he is also receiving a lot more instruction than several veterans at the position did when they were developing.

Current Royals catcher Jason Kendall said he did not understand the finer points of catching until he had been a pro for five seasons, and Yost said he felt like he was on his own while in the minors.

Even though Myers' bat is good enough to earn him an easier position, Tijerina said he has been receptive to the extra attention he's received.

"His development speaks volumes about his ability," Tijerina said. "To be 19 and playing in the Carolina League, that's impressive. And all the credit goes to him. You've got to want to catch to be a catcher."