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Anthony Castrovince

Rays keep pressure off prospect Myers

Key acquisition in trade with Royals is enjoying laid-back atmosphere

Rays keep pressure off prospect Myers

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The chief concern in Wil Myers' life right now? It's not assimilating to a new team, impressing his new bosses, learning a new system. Nor is it the attention, acclaim and anticipation that come with being such a prominent trade piece.

No, what Myers has to worry about is filling those empty hours leading up to the next episode of "The Walking Dead."

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"We just got caught up with 'The Walking Dead' on Netflix," explained Jake Odorizzi, Myers' spring roommate. "Now we have to wait until Sunday night for the next episode, and it's like, 'What the heck are we going to do with ourselves?'"

If the AMC creation is the only drama Myers is wrapped up in, then the Rays must be doing something right.

They tend to do things right around here, of course. As they've posted winning records in five consecutive seasons, the Rays have become renowned for maximizing the potential of the talent on their roster in part because of their welcoming, come-as-you-are clubhouse.

And so, for a prized prospect like Myers, who was the club's key acquisition in the trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals, the weight of expectations and the burden of being ballyhooed is lifted here. Just do your work, demonstrate a willingness to learn and run hard to first base, and you'll fit in fine.

"You're not afraid to make mistakes," catcher Chris Gimenez said. "As a young player, that's a lot of the worry. You're terrified to make a mistake because you're afraid of the repercussions or how people are going to look at you. They encourage you to be aggressive here, and it just takes the pressure off people's plates. It allows them to go out and do what they do. And we have so much fun here, it's ridiculous."

Myers, 22, is already picking up on that notion. The stuffed wild boar's head hanging from Luke Scott's locker -- Scott's trophy from a recent hunt -- is but one indication that the Rays do things a little bit differently than others.

"That," Myers admitted, "is kind of weird."

The rest, though, is right up his alley. The Rays take what manager Joe Maddon calls the "liberal-arts approach" to player development, establishing an understanding of the fundamentals -- footwork, leads and secondary leads, reading the signs, etc. -- and letting the rest take care of itself naturally. For Myers, that means a lack of emphasis on his offense, which might already be big league ready, with the attention instead on his defense and baserunning.

"I am rooted in development," Maddon explained. "I look at a guy like that, and my first thought is to not screw it up. So there is going to be scrutiny and expectation and all that stuff. But for me, there isn't ... I think, by de-emphasizing this overall importance about hitting, he might be able to go about his business better."

Myers will hit. The Rays are certain of that. Evidence to back up this belief exists in the subtleties of his batting-practice work.

On Thursday, for example, Myers stood in for a live batting-practice session against hard-throwing lefty reliever Jake McGee. In came a fastball down the middle, and Myers was late on it.

"He was mad at his swing," said Gimenez, who was crouched behind the plate, "and the ball went out opposite field, like 50 feet over the fence. [McGee] and I were just both kind of looking at each other like, 'Wow.'"

On Friday, the soundness of Myers' swing plane -- a short stroke for a guy with his size and power -- was evident when he pulled two homers on pitches that were at least six inches off the inside part of the plate. Even getting to those pitches was impressive. But going deep?

"He's gifted, he's different," Maddon said. "It's going to work on a very, very high and prosperous level."

What encourages the Rays is the way Myers approaches his aim for that level. Maddon talked a bit about Myers' "mature" method in BP, how he doesn't just try to impress with his raw power. Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman talked about Myers' focused preparation and assimilation.

Ultimately, though, what's important here is that the Rays aren't going to mess with Myers. And as is always the case with their prospects, they're going to do everything in their power to ensure he's prepared for the next level before they bring him up.

"Trust the process," Friedman said. "If guys are able to do that, because of their natural ability, we're really confident that the outcome will be good."

Naturally, there is a business element to all of this. Myers tore up Triple-A to the tune of a .304/.378/.554 slash line in 99 games last season, but he will almost undoubtedly begin the season at Triple-A Durham (if he doesn't, Bulls fans who bought the three-game "Wil He Or Won't He?" package will receive a fourth game for free). The Rays, even more than most organizations, have to be mindful of the service clock and its impact on eventual arbitration and free-agent eligibility.

The Rays believe their roster is ready to win, with or without Myers. The outfield has secure spots for Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings, with Ben Zobrist roaming between infield and outfield and Sam Fuld in the mix. The designated-hitter spot is set with Scott.

Myers' day will come at some point this season. And when it does, he might be in a better strategic position to have an impact than if he broke camp with the club.

"You look at Desmond Jennings last year," hitting coach Derek Shelton said. "He came up in the middle of the season when he was going good. When you break with the team, it's a different thing. People know you, they have scouting reports on you. Breaking with a team is a difficult transition. When it's mid-June and you're rolling and you feel good, it's a little easier than Opening Day."

Myers is a confident kid. In an honest moment, he'd probably tell you he's ready, and he might just be right. But he's also a respectful kid who knows how to handle this situation maturely.

"I know there's a business side to the game," he said. "I understand that. I trust that the organization will make the right decision at the right time."

Myers has already developed quite a bit of trust in and respect for this organization. The vibe here, he said, is totally different than it was with Kansas City.

"It's real laid back," he said. "I think that's good for me and good for my game. What they do here gets the most out of players."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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