It’s been a trying year for the Kansas City Royals. After being one of the better hitting outfits in the game last season, they have not hit nearly as well this year, and while the pitching has improved, they are currently down two starters in Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino as well. Still, the team has persevered. Since posting a 6-15 record in April, they have gone 23-20 — including five wins in their past six games — to remain on the periphery of the American League Central “race.” They are still not scoring enough runs to be taken seriously as we move closer to the All-Star break, but unlike many teams, Kansas City has a great in-house solution laying in wait in prospect Wil Myers.
Originally drafted as a catcher, the Royals moved Myers to the outfield last season, a transition that was slowed by an infected knee. He primarily played right field, but also saw time in center and left. But when the Royals made the incredibly poor decision to keep Jeff Francoeur and not Melky Cabrera this past offseason, right field was no longer an available option for Myers. And with Alex Gordon stationed in left field, the best landing spot for Myers became center, and that’s where he has played the majority of this season — he has played center in 38 of his 65 games thus far. But whether he’s played center, right or third base (he snuck in a couple of games there) he has absolutely crushed the ball.
With the knee infection well in his rearview mirror, the 21-year-old North Carolina native has shown that his outburst in the Arizona Fall League last season was no fluke. He started the season by repeating Double-A, but he wasn’t there long. The .498 wOBA that he posted for Northwest Arkansas is still first place in the Texas League by a 52-point margin (minimum 100 plate appearances), and the two players closest to his mark are two and four years older, respectively. By the middle of May, Kansas City had seen enough and shuffled him off to Omaha, where he has kept hitting. His .451 wOBA for Omaha ranks sixth in the Pacific Coast League (min. 100 PA), and his peripherals have improved in Triple-A as well.
The samples are small, as Myers had just 152 PA’s in Double-A, and is at just 127 so far with Omaha, but the numbers that he has posted have been encouraging. He has had a bit of a strikeout problem during his short stay in the Minors, and that peaked at Double-A. He struck out 20.9 percent of the time in Double-A last season, and 27.6 percent of the time there this season. But since moving to Omaha, he has gotten his K% under 20, to 19.7%. It’s just under the 20-percent bar, and one golden sombrero would send him shooting back over the threshold, but so far he has managed to course correct while moving up a level. That he has been able to do so while not seeing any appreciable drop in his walk percentage is even more impressive. The icing on the cake is that he has been able to maintain an incredibly high level of productivity without an insanely high BABIP, as the .425 mark he posted at Double-A this season has fallen to .312 in Omaha.
On the other hand, “incredibly productive” would not be a very apt description for the 2012 Royals’ outfield. As a unit, they have posted a better wRC+ than only five other teams — the Pirates, Cubs, Nationals, Indians and Astros. This stands in sharp contrast to last season, when the unit’s 122 wRC+ was fourth-best in baseball. Center field has particularly been problematic. With Lorenzo Cain being out since the season’s fifth game, Jarrod Dyson has been the primary center fielder. He has started 40 of the past 45 games in center with lackluster results. Among the 33 center fielders who have logged at least 150 plate appearances this season, the only player who has been less valuable than Dyson is Marlon Byrd, and he is currently on the waiver wire. Part of that is Dyson’s lackluster UZR, but he hasn’t exactly been on fire at the plate either. He is hitting better in June than he did in May, but that’s mainly because it’s tough to sink lower than a .293 wOBA and still receive regular playing time (though Dee Gordon is doing his best to challenge that notion). For the season, Dyson has posted just a .290 wOBA, which ranks just 26th among center fielders.
All of that is a long way of saying that Myers can help the Royals right now. The final impediment to a call-up would be to make sure he doesn’t achieve Super-Two status, but if MLB Trade Rumors is correct in their determination that we have passed the Super-Two danger zone, then the time to call up Myers is now. While only seven teams have a worse overall run differential than the Royals, the mediocre flea market that is the AL Central has provided them an opportunity to remain in the race. It’s a seemingly remote chance at the moment — Cool Standings has their playoff odds at just 9.6 percent today — but that will change quickly if the team stays hot. And the best way for them to stay hot is to get more offense. The Royals have scored five or more runs in only 21 games this season — only the Cubs have done so less frequently. Of the five games that they won last week, four were one-run victories and one was a two-run victory. They only scored five runs in one of the games, and they needed 15 innings to do that.
Since they are still under .500 and are still best positioned for a run in 2013 or 2014, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Royals to look externally for additional offense, but with Myers in the fold, they don’t need to. And with Dyson providing neither average offensive nor defensive value in center, Myers won’t need to produce superstar numbers to be of value to KC. But superstar numbers are what Myers will eventually put up, and even if he doesn’t help jumpstart a pennant charge this season, the additional time in the Majors this year will give both him and the Royals a leg up on next season, as they will be able to discern whether or not he can handle center. If he can, Lorenzo Cain becomes expendable. If he can’t, then Jeff Francoeur will become even more expendable than he already is. Given how well he has played, how poorly Dyson has played, and with Super-Two status no longer an issue, there is no downside to promoting Myers.