PORT CHARLOTTE — As impressed as the Rays are with top prospect Wil Myers' hitting prowess, as evident as it is how he earned minor-league player of the year honors, as obvious as it is why he commanded such a high price in a trade with Kansas City, they say he has more work to do.
"We need complete baseball players," manager Joe Maddon said.
Matt Joyce knows exactly what that means. Because he wasn't very many days into his first spring with the Rays after being acquired from Detroit when he got the same speech.
"These guys are totally different," Joyce said of the Rays. "They want you to play the entire game."
So when the Rays send Myers to Triple A to start the season and their talk about "development" sounds like code for delaying his arbitration and free-agency eligibility, they actually will have a specific plan in place for the 22-year-old outfielder.
"Getting the work necessary on defense, baserunning, etc., the things that we like to do here that he may not have been pushed to do in the past," Maddon said. "I want us to push him to do that now."
Joyce didn't have as much hype and hyperbole as Myers when he was acquired in a December 2008 trade, but he did have the experience of nearly 100 games and some decent success with the Tigers as a 24-year-old.
The Rays quickly made it clear that just being a good hitter was not good enough.
"When I came over, I told them the Tigers really stressed hitting. They wanted you to hit," Joyce said. "The baserunning and stuff, we really didn't work on it that much. It was just kind of like, hey, you got on the base and you ran the bases. It wasn't like, 'We want you to go first to third, we want you to be lined up like this, we want you to take your lead this way.' They get really in-depth here."
Maddon said the Rays have to, for good reasons. They must maximize their roster to compete with teams spending two and three times as much, and with less chemical enhancement, the game is becoming more athletic.
"You want the bat to be prominent, no question about that," Maddon said. "But we need to play the complete game. We have to be able to steal runs on defense. We've got to pick up runs with our legs. We just can't have a guy go out there and be totally focused on offense and not play the rest of the game and have us expect to win 90 games. We can't do it."
Maddon was careful to not criticize the Royals' development of Myers, but he said there's a tendency industrywide "to overlook things" with elite prospects.
"That's one I want us to focus on here is that we don't do that," he said, "that because a guy is really good or comes with a great reputation, that you don't avoid those conversations."
Maddon had the talk with Myers a few days ago about how, starting in spring training, they want him to work on specifics such as footwork in the outfield, leads on the bases, etc.
Myers said he's good with it. "Absolutely," he said. "I want to be open to coaching. I just want to do whatever they say will help me and the team win."
Joyce plans to talk to Myers as well: "It's one of those situations where he's got some things to learn, so I'm going to try and help him because I was there."
Also, because it worked.
Joyce says he is a much better overall player as a result. "Without a doubt," he said. "It's huge. Those things get overlooked more often than you would think, and they are such a big part of the game."
Now Myers is the next project. Asked Monday, as he is often, about expectations for Myers, Maddon said: "That he learns how to become a Ray, he learns how to play the game the way we play it here."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]