The immediate impact of winning the American League rookie of the year award didn't amount to much for Wil Myers. After finishing up a TV interview from a North Carolina studio, the Rays outfielder said he was appropriately honored and properly excited, but he didn't plan to do much celebrating.
"Going to go back home and play pingpong," Myers said.
Though he'll get a plaque and a trip to New York for the January awards dinner, Myers' real payoff will come in future years as he benefits from the success — and struggles — of his rookie season.
"I think the one thing he did find out, season in progress, is how difficult it is to sustain really good numbers playing on the major-league level and how difficult it is to perform, particularly at the end of the season when you get to that playoff moment when everybody really ratchets things up a bit," manager Joe Maddon said.
"He understands all that. So to get all that kind of an education in your first year and win this award. … I think it's going to prompt him or promote him to work even harder in the future. This guy does not like to fail. He does not like failure at all. He really believes in his own abilities. I've watched that very closely. So I think he'll be really motivated by this award."
Myers, 22, collected 23 of the 30 first-place votes and 131 points from members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America to finish ahead of Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias (five, 80) and Rays teammate Chris Archer (one, 35).
Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez, a product of Tampa's Alonso High, was the National League winner by a similar margin, beating out Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig and Cardinals pitcher Shelby Miller.
Acquired in December from the Royals as the prime return in the James Shields trade, Myers didn't make much of an impression in spring training and got off to a slow start at Triple-A Durham. But he warmed there, was promoted in mid June and was quite a hit, leading the Rays and AL rookies with 53 RBIs while posting a .293 average and 13 homers in 88 games as he helped lead the team into the playoffs.
"I thought I did well," Myers said. "I was able to go out and help the team. I thought I was put in some pretty big spots as a rookie. As far as my season went, there's a lot of things that can improve, but I thought I did pretty well for my first year."
Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said the Rays were pleased with what Myers did and how he did it.
"What impressed us most about Wil is how he made adjustments over the course of the year, first in Triple A and then in the big leagues," Friedman said via email from the GM meetings. "To step into the middle of a pennant race and contribute immediately isn't easy, and this award is a testament to that. He has the potential to be an outstanding player in this league for a long time."
Myers said that is the plan, as he has identified and targeted several areas for offseason improvement — routes, arm strength, speed, hitting mechanics.
"I definitely want to go out and try to be one of the best players in the game," Myers said. "Obviously winning this award gives me some confidence going into next year, so I'm going to work hard this offseason, work on the things that I need to work on and get ready for next year."
Fernandez, 21, made an unexpected jump from Class A to the majors and made the most of it, going 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, second best in the NL. The award capped an emotional two days, as Fernandez on Sunday was reunited with his grandmother, whom he hadn't seen since leaving Cuba five years ago and ending up in Tampa. "It means a lot to get this award," he said. "I wasn't planning on being in the big leagues at least until after the All-Star Game."
Myers is the third Ray to win in six seasons, joining Evan Longoria (2008) and Jeremy Hellickson ('11). "Our scouts and our development staff deserve a lot of credit for helping so many of our guys on the way to those tremendous rookie seasons," Friedman said. "We will always have to rely on young players, and their accomplishments have been a huge part of the success we've enjoyed."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]