Monday, December 11, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Wil Myers ready to build on rookie season

PORT CHARLOTTE — Just walking into the clubhouse early Sunday morning to start his second spring with the Rays, Wil Myers had good reason to immediately feel more comfortable.

"I kind of knew what door to go in," he said.

Just getting to the complex had been an adventure, as Myers was caught in the latest round of winter storms in his native North Carolina. With his Friday flight from Charlotte to Tampa canceled, and told there was no room on any others anytime soon, the 23-year-old headed to the car rental counters.

"I drove down in a Kia, the small one. Very small," said the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Myers. "Ten hours. It's really not that bad of a drive. Stopped twice."

The rest of the spring should be easier this time around for Myers, who a year ago was the highly touted newcomer being eyeballed from all corners to see why the Rays traded much-loved pitcher James Shields for him. Worse, he didn't show well, playing poorly and coming across a bit uncomfortable and cocky, somewhat relieved to be sent to the minors.

But Myers ended up actually living up to the hype, going from a mid June callup to being a key piece of the Rays' playoff run and win American League rookie of the year, hitting .293 with 13 homers, 53 RBIs and an .831 on-base plus slugging percentage in 88 games.

And Sunday — yes, still famously shaggy-haired, with no plans for a trim — the 23-year-old stood at his new locker, now on the wall with the veterans, and talked engagingly about how much more comfortable he was being there.

"A lot less nervous this time," he said.

But, Myers was quick to add, that in no way means he is complacent.

The 3½ months of the regular season were enough to give him a sense that he needed to better his overall outfield defense and fine-tune some aspects of his swing. But the rough time he had in the postseason — including 1-for-16 in the AL Division Series, with the grievous Game 1-changing error — became a motivating force.

"I thought I had a pretty good regular season. There were some things I needed to improve on," Myers said. "The postseason — I learned a lot from the postseason of what not to do. I got kind of out of my, the way I do things. I tried to get too pumped up, tried to do too much instead of just relax and go out there and do what I can. So it left a bitter taste in my mouth going into the offseason, which I think helped me prepare more this year."

Manager Joe Maddon was glad to hear of Myers' confession, saying it was further evidence that he grasped the importance of accountability, part of an ongoing evolution into a complete and more mature player.

While the coaching staff will work with Myers on some specifics this spring (such as throwing), Maddon said there will be some mental development needed as well coming off his 2013 success.

"Once you've reached that particular level, you have to maintain that particular level," Maddon said. "Being as good as he is, as young as he is, there is that group out there that's going to try to combat what he had done last year. He's got to be aware of making adjustments as we creep into the season, or be open to that.

"That's not taking away from the visceral component that he has. He's just pretty much in the moment. He's out there playing, he's feeling things. I love that about him. But maybe raise the mental level of his game just a touch — being a little bit more aware of what's going on around him. A really good second-year guy, that's how you avoid the proverbial sophomore jinx."

Myers seems confident he can. He spent most of what sounds like a low-key offseason laying low, living in a house he rented near his parents, working out at several college facilities, putting on eight pounds of muscle. The only big events were a trip to New York to receive his rookie award, giving him occasion to don a tux for the first time, and a Greensboro, N.C., concert by Jay Z, who is now affiliated with the CAA agency that reps Myers, to which he got free tickets but not the chance to meet the star.

"The thing about it for me was just not trying to get too complacent this offseason, try to work hard," Myers said. "I didn't want to think, 'Okay, I'm going to make the team so I'm fine this offseason.' I really wanted to come out this offseason and work hard to get better to improve on last year."

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

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