Sunday, February 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Myers favored to win AL rookie of the year

ST. PETERSBURG — Several images linger from Wil Myers' first season in the majors about what he did not do: catch the seemingly routine David Ortiz fly ball to right that led to a massive momentum swing that ruined the Division Series opener at Boston, nor hit much afterward; or bother to run a comb or brush or something through his hair before a now infamous MLB Network TV appearance last week.

But there was so much the Rays outfielder did well — especially for a 22-year-old new to The Show — and there are so many reasons he is considered the favorite to win the American League rookie of the year award that will be announced tonight.

"Wil stepped right into the middle of an order of a playoff-contending team and really hit the ground running," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said.

"There was a point in the season where he had been up for, I don't know, 60 games, and it felt like it had been a year-and-a-half. He was just in the middle of so many different things and a big part of the success we enjoyed this year."

The basic statistics are obvious enough: a .293 batting average, 13 home runs, 53 RBIs and an .831 on-base plus slugging percentage in 88 games after a mid-June promotion.

More impressive, the Rays say, was how Myers did so, and how well he adjusted to the stage he was now performing on.

"Physically, his ability to hit the ball hard, that's unusual at any level of experience," manager Joe Maddon said. "Mentally, being able to show up, permit his abilities to perform and being in control of his emotions. Again, that's not typical of an inexperienced player with high expectations."

While Myers certainly comes across publicly as young, laid-back or even goofy at times, the perspective inside the clubhouse and dugout was different.

"He's the type of guy that I think people have a misconception about him just because he's no batting gloves and he's like, 'whatever,' " outfielder David DeJesus said. "But that couldn't be farther from the truth. He's a competitor, he wants to win at everything. He has a passion for baseball that's great to see at the young age that he's at."

Also impressed is pitcher Chris Archer, another finalist for the rookie award along with Detroit shortstop Jose Iglesias. Archer shares several bonds with Myers — growing up in North Carolina, early 20s, acquired in a trade, started the season at Triple-A Durham.

"I was fortunate enough to see Wil quote-unquote 'struggle' — I remember we had a conversation, it may have been April or early May, he was like, 'Man, this is kind of tough because I've never gone through a period of time where I didn't hit for this long' —and then to see him break out of that (at Durham) and then jump right up to the scene," Archer said. "Then like in his (sixth) game he hits a grand slam opposite field off CC Sabathia in Yankee Stadium and just continues to produce day in and day out."

Myers is considered the award favorite based on his offensive production, first or second among AL rookies in homers, RBIs, runs, doubles, extra-base hits, go-ahead RBIs, total bases and OPS. The only real knock is he didn't play enough; no position player has won the AL award with fewer than 100 games. Iglesias, who played in 109 between the Red Sox and Tigers, did have a higher batting average (.303) and a highlight tape of dazzling defensive plays.

Myers said it's "a huge honor" just to be considered, much less have a legit chance to be the Rays' third winner in six years, following Evan Longoria and Jeremy Hellickson.

"He's a guy that's still learning the different nuances of the game, and he's still extremely young," Friedman said, "and I think the thing that really stood out about him was the work ethic and the passion for what he does."

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

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