Saturday, February 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Confident Myers fuels Rays' hot streak

The Rays have learned a lot about Wil Myers since he joined the team seven weeks ago today.

Most noticeably, he hits the ball often, hard and far. He runs faster and is a better defender than they expected. He has a sophisticated knowledge of hitting and game situations for a rookie. He plays in a low-key manner with a sense of calm that keeps him from being overwhelmed no matter the moment.

And, sometimes, he will say the darndest things — about himself.

The 22-year-old outfielder does not lack for confidence, and whether he's talking about how he crushed a ball, that he does his "best work" when batting third or fourth in the order or how easy a certain pitch was to hit, the Rays have come to appreciate — and enjoy — his bravado.

"He believes it, but he says it in a tongue-in-cheek manner that I think is pretty funny," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's got a way about him that he can say stuff like that and you just take it the right way.

"Yes, he's confident. Yes, he's cocky/confident. But he's cocky/confident in a way that's very acceptable. It's hard to pull off but he's — what's the phrase? — disarming. He's very disarming the way he does it, like you can't get upset. … I think that's just who he is."

Myers said that's exactly right. And a big reason for the success he'd had, hitting .329 with eight homers, 30 RBIs and a .912 on-base plus slugging percentage in his first 39 games.

"It's how I've always been," Myers said. "If you don't go up there with some confidence you don't feel like you'd do as well. … You've got to believe in yourself."

After acquiring Myers from the Royals in December, the Rays first got a sense of his confidence in spring training when he lashed a triple, and as third-base coach Tom Foley complimented him for hitting the ball so hard, Myers grinned and said, "I always hit the ball hard."

And they got another dispatch early this season from Triple-A Durham, when Myers one day asked hitting coach Dave Myers (no relation) if he'd seen many players hit the ball as he does. Dave Myers mentioned that, well, yes, when he was in the Mariners organization he did work with a couple of fellas Wil may have heard of, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. ("That was funny," Wil says now. "Dave gave me a hard time with those two guys.")

That Myers has backed up the braggadocio with performance helps. So, too, that he comes across as pleasant, likable and, at certain times, with very much the aw-shucks innocence of someone four years out of a small North Carolina high school.

Myers has stood out for a few reasons.

He swings without batting gloves, pawing at the dirt before stepping into the batter's box. He sports a mop of hair he proudly says he hasn't cut — or combed — all season. He delivers in dramatic moments, his first home run a grand slam off CC Sabathia in Yankee Stadium after Evan Longoria was intentionally walked, his first at-bat at the Trop a massive homer, estimated at 428 feet, off the centerfield restaurant leading to a curtain call.

And he flips his bat.

Actually it may be more of a toss, but it's still a little different, and will continue to attract attention, from fans and media if not, eventually, opponents.

Myers said that, too, is something he has always done and is somewhat innate: "I have a natural flip in my after-swing anyways."

Maddon said he sees it that way, too — "a weird finish to his swing" — but knows others may see it differently.

"When he hits a home run sometimes it presents kind of like flamboyant, but I really believe that's just how he finishes and he can't help it," Maddon said.

Myers said the whole big-league experience has been a blast, from how comfortable he has felt in the Rays' laid-back clubhouse to the warm reception he has gotten from umpires and opponents.

Besides the two introductory home runs, his other top moments so far are his three-run homer at Yankee Stadium and Saturday's first walkoff hit.

But the best, he asserts, is yet to come, noting a bomb he hit in Durham off the fourth deck of a building beyond the left-centerfield wall.

"That was the furthest ball I've ever hit," Myers said. "I've hit some balls well here but I haven't really gotten one like I know I can. But the ball I hit in Durham was pretty impressive. I was impressed at myself honestly when I hit that ball."

Of course he was.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.

 
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