Myers will eventually help underrated Rays offense
Run production likely to improve regardless of when highly regarded prospect arrives
The first thing to know about the Rays, when you wonder how they can fix their offense, is that their offense doesn't need as much fixing as it may appear. The brutal hitting environment of Tropicana Field makes Tampa Bay's lineup look much less potent than it actually is.
The Rays were, in fact, pretty productive in 2012, when you adjust for the offensive context. They ranked fourth in the American League in runs scored on the road. They were seventh among the 14 AL clubs in Baseball Prospectus' True Average, a measure of all batting contributions adjusted for ballpark and league quality.
Still, Tampa Bay clearly identified offense as a priority this winter. It traded James Shields, an AL Cy Young Award candidate in 2011, to Kansas City for a package centered on top hitting prospect Wil Myers. The 22-year-old outfielder might not crack the Opening Day roster, but he's expected to contribute before the year is out.
As for when and how much Myers will offer, it's somewhat unclear. The club is preaching patience with Myers, who spent most of last year at Triple-A Omaha and hit 37 homers between Double-A and Triple-A.
"We're much more focused on the process than really what the back of his baseball card will read in a year, two, three from now," Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said on MLB.com's Hot Stove show.
"We're just keeping an open mind. We're just excited to get a chance to watch him every day and be around him. We'll have a much better feel for where things stand once we really get into that. It's not fair to make declarative statements one way or another."
Myers batted .314 with a .387 on-base percentage and a .600 slugging percentage in 134 Minor League games last season. In addition to the 37 homers, he amassed 109 RBIs, 98 runs scored and 26 doubles. It was seriously prodigious production, and while there are some worries about Myers' ability to make contact (his 140 strikeouts were a career high), he is surely ready to contribute to some extent at the Major League level already.
If the Rays' history is any guide, Myers won't get that chance right off the bat. Tampa Bay often keeps top youngsters in the Minor Leagues for a while at the beginning of their rookie years. That gives the club an extra year before the player reaches free-agent eligibility, as well as an extra year before he can go to salary arbitration.
It won't be surprising at all if they take a similar tack with Myers. They recently re-signed Luke Scott, who put up disappointing overall numbers in 2012 but surged in the second half of the season. Reports on Monday indicated they've also come to terms with Kelly Johnson.
Scott slides in as the primary designated hitter, while Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce man the corner outfield spots. Johnson's addition will allow Ben Zobrist to spend more time in the outfield as well. James Loney will play first base.
Even after bringing in Johnson, the Rays may yet look to add one more hitter if possible, which would allow extra patience with Myers -- not to mention a fallback if Myers isn't quite ready early in the season. They'd like to avoid a scenario like the one that occurred last season, when numerous injuries left them fairly exposed on offense.
"If we're able to do that and something lines up that makes sense for us, it has the added benefit of not only adding that player but also extending our depth," Friedman said. "We saw that firsthand last year, just how important that is. We had a ton of different injuries, beyond [Evan] Longoria missing 90 games, or whatever it was. [Desmond] Jennings missed a month. Matt Joyce missed five or six weeks. B.J. [Upton] missed time."
Of course, just having guys stay healthy would be quite a boon. Longoria is a superstar-caliber player when healthy, but he's played 207 games total over the past two seasons. Jennings needs all the at-bats he can get as he tries to develop into a big league star. Scott was clearly compromised early in the year as he tried to come back from an injury-marred 2011. Joyce has shown he's capable of being an impact hitter, but he, too, needs to stay in the lineup.
The Rays were already decent. The pieces are in place for them to be better than that. And they're still looking to add more. For all the talk about Tampa Bay's offensive woes, its offense might be pretty good after all.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.