When Baseball America named Wil Myers their Minor League Player of the Year yesterday, it came as little surprise. The 21-year-old Kansas City Royals outfield prospect hit .313/.387/.600, with 37 home runs, between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha. He came into the season rated as one of the top players in the KC system, and ended it as one of the most promising hitters in the game.
Myers, who was drafted by the Royals in 2009, talked about his development — including the emergence of his light-tower power — on the final day of the minor-league regular season.
David Laurila: Is hitting simple or is it complicated?
Wil Myers: It can be both. Hitting is very simple, but it’s complicated at the same time. If I have a good approach and stay up the middle, it’s pretty simple. I can get a hit, or at least hit something hard. But a lot of times, hitters will get out of their approach and that makes it very complicated and harder to have success.
DL: Do you consider yourself a power hitter?
WM: Yeah, I think so. There are a lot of times, especially early in the count and when I’m ahead, that I’ll look in, to pull something. If I’m in a good hitter’s count, I’m looking to hit to left-center and trying to drive it over the wall. Other than that, staying to the middle is what really keeps me inside the ball and not wrapping around it.
Last year I had a lot of trouble with the outside pitch. They really beat me with that, but I’m learning to hit it. I’m learning to hit the ball the other way with some power. Once you do that, you get more balls on the inner half. They want you to prove that you can get that ball away before you start getting balls in.
DL: Are you generally looking middle-away and reacting to balls inside?
WM: No, I’m looking in, basically all the time. Until I get two strikes — or sometimes if it’s 0-1 — I’m looking on the inner half. But when I’m focused up the middle, it’s a lot easier for me to go the other way. Early in the count, I’m looking for something in, to pull.
I’m not looking to just slap the ball the other way, especially with runners in scoring position. I’m looking for something to drive into the gap or over the fence. I’m looking for RBI opportunities.
There are a lot of base hits the other way, if you want to, but there are also a lot of power numbers on the inner half. Once the count is in the pitcher’s favor, I’ll use the other way, but if it’s in my favor, I’m looking to turn on something.
DL: Is there such a thing as learning how to hit for power?
WM: I think it just comes. I guess you kind of just grow into your power. That said, this year is the first year I’ve ever really worked on hitting home runs in BP. Not necessarily jerking balls, but rather working on backspin and hitting the ball over the fence, toward left-center and center field. I think that has helped me translate it to the game.
You want to hit the bottom side of the ball and you want to create backspin. You want to have a short swing to the ball. I don’t really know if hitting home runs is mechanical or not. I just think it’s just that you have the ability to hit home runs better than some people.
DL: Have you made any mechanical adjustments?
WM: Yes. This year, I’m standing more upright, which gives me more leverage when I hit. Before, I used to be lower to the ground and just wanted to get my base hits. Now I’m more upright and worried about driving balls in the gap and over the fence for power numbers.
It was something I did this past off-season. I stood more upright in my drills and off the tee, and noticed that I got a lot more backspin. Once I got to spring training, I was doing it in BP and then in the game. I noticed a lot of difference in the way the ball was coming off my bat and the backspin I was having on it.
DL: Is there anything unique about your preparation?
WM: It’s different every day. I don’t have a strict routine. For instance, if I hit well in a game after hitting in the cage, or just hitting off the tee, I’ll do the same thing again. If I didn’t have a good game, I‘ll change it up. I guess I’m a little superstitious that way.
DL: Do strikeouts matter?
WM: They kind of matter. I’ve struck out a lot more this year than I want to, but you also have to look at the home runs and RBIs. You have to give and take a little bit. As I keep playing, I feel that the strikeouts will cut down. Overall, I think this has been a good year for me. I’ll take the strikeouts with the other numbers.
DL: Where are you in regard to plate discipline and pitch recognition?
WM; I recognize pitches really well. It’s just that I’ve been very aggressive this year. I don’t look to take walks. My first two years, whenever I would get into a 3-0 count, I was always taking. This year I’m willing to swing no matter what the count is.
DL: Do you spend much time talking hitting with your teammates?
WM: Not really. I don’t really talk to anybody about hitting. Everybody has their own different hitting philosophy and approach. If somebody asks me, “Hey what were you doing here?” or “What do you think about this?” I’ll tell them. But I’m not going to go up and talk to a guy about his approach. If anything, I’ll talk to him about the way the pitcher is throwing.
DL: What do you want to know about opposing pitcher?
WM: The only thing I really like to know is how fast his fastball is. That’s the thing I key off of. I look for a fastball. I don’t sit on breaking balls or off-speed pitches. Obviously, the way I’ve been pitched to lately, I’ve seen a lot of off-speed pitches, but I’m always looking for a fastball to hit.
DL: What did you learn about hitting during your year as a catcher?
WM; I don’t necessarily know that I learned anything from a hitting perspective, but it was definitely good for me to be able to catch. I learned how catchers call the game. I learned how the umpires like to run the game. I learned the pace of the game a lot better.
I don’t think like a catcher at the plate. If I start thinking about what’s going to be thrown in a particular count, that’s when I start struggling. Honestly, like I said earlier, the only pitch I’m looking for is a fastball. I’m looking fastball down the middle — middle-in — and adjusting to an off-speed pitch.
DL: Whose decision was it to make you a catcher?
WM: It was the Royals. I don’t know the exact person, but when they drafted me, it was as a catcher. They wanted to see me catch. I’m not really sure why, because I didn’t catch very much in high school. I guess they just thought I was athletic enough to go back there and do it.
I think I actually did pretty well my one year as a catcher, but with the way that Salvador Perez caught — he did very well and is a good catcher — and with the way I hit, they probably thought it was best for me to move to the outfield. My hitting was definitely ahead my defense.
DL: How satisfied are you with your defense in the outfield?
WM: I’ve gotten a lot better in the outfield this year. I played a lot of games in center field. I enjoy center a lot more than the corners, because you’re in the game more. I’ve really taken my defense seriously this year. I’ve worked hard to get better, because I want to contribute on defense as well as with the bat.
DL; Are you surprised that you hit 37 home runs this year?
WM; I don’t want to say that I’m surprised. If somebody had told me I was going to hit 30-plus home runs this year, I’d have thought it was maybe a stretch, but I also don’t want to take any credit away from my ability. I feel like I can go out there and do a lot of things. But yeah, it was a little bit of a surprise. I just wanted to go out and have a good year. I feel that I did have a good year.