Let's face it, you either love the trade for Wil Myers or you hate it. There's no real in-between for fans or radio hosts about the 2011 Minor League Player of the Year.
Understandably, all the chatter is about potential, potential, potential.
Potential big-time talent with five-tool ability and the makings of a perenial All-Star. Potential power hitter to join Evan Longoria in the middle of the lineup. Potential face of the franchise along with Longoria.
In addition, the naysayers have bemoaned the risk. The risk that he turns into a Tim Beckham, the first overall pick by the Rays of the 2008 MLB Draft who has yet to crack the big leagues. The risk that he doesn't live up to the high expectations. The risk that he isn't worth letting go of quality pitchers like James Shields and Wade Davis.
Over the past week, you've been inundated with enough information and sabermetrics about Myers to make Jeff Sagarin go dizzy. But what this really boils down to is how much the 6-foot-3, 205-pound former catcher and present-day outfielder separates himself from the rest of the competition.
When I called three sources who have been evaluating talent in professional baseball for over 20 years, they all said the same thing.
"They don't hand out (the Minor League POY Award) to just anyone."
And they're right. The list is quite impressive.
Players like Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, Dwight Gooden, Jose Canseco, Sandy Alomar, Jr., Tim Salmon, Frank Thomas, Andruw Jones (twice), Josh Beckett, Joe Mauer, Alex Gordon, Matt Wieters, Jason Heyward, Jeremy Hellickson, and Mike Trout have all taken home the award.
Since 1981, when the panel of experts at Baseball America began giving this award to the best player in the minors, every MLPOY except four has received or earned some type of honor in the Majors during his playing career. The four who didn't -- Mike Bielicki, Derek Bell, Rocco Baldelli, and Jeff Francis -- still managed to have productive seasons.
Of the 30 winners (Gregg Jeffries in 1986-87 and Jones in 1995-96 were repeat winners), 19 players have appeared in the All-Star game at least once, eight have won their respective league's Rookie of the Year Award, 11 have earned at least one Silver Slugger Award, eight have won at least one Gold Glove Award, eight have been a part of one or more World Series Championship-winning team, and eight have won either the Most Valuable Player Award for the entire year, in the Championship Series or in the World Series.
"This is a heavyweight award won by a player who excels above far more players than in the Majors," a scout from an AL East team said. "With over 200 players in each organization's minor league system and 32 clubs, you're talking about a lot of players to be better than. Myers isn't just run-of-the-mill prospect. He's the best of the best."
Some have tried to lump Myers in with "all the other top-flight prospects" and have opined about the rise and fall of said prospect,
In an article by a writer by Jerry Crasnick on ESPN.com (a baseball writer I admire very much), he mentions taking a ìspin through the 2006 Baseball America Prospect Handbook to reflect on other highly-acclaimed hitters.î In it, he found guys like Jeremy Hermida, Brandon Wood, Ian Stewart, Lastings Milledge, Andy LaRoche, Andy Marte, Conor Jackson, Daric Barton, Joel Guzman, Felix Pie and Jeff Clement.
A number of these players have had some impressive numbers in the minors, but they obviously have not been able to transfer that magic over to the majors on a consistent basis, for whatever reason or another. The difference between Myers and these other players, though, is a major one, no pun intended.
None of these players had the pedigree to impress enough to earn player of the year honors in the minors like Myers did last season, compiling a .314 batting average with 26 doubles, six triples, 37 homers, and 109 RBIs in 591 plate appearances mostly on the Triple-A level. Many websites have done an efficient job breaking down the trade, including http://rayscoloredglasses.com/2012/12/10/trading-shields-to-royals-a-significant-short-term-risk-for-the-rays-but-a-steal-of-a-trade-for-the-future/ and http://www.raysindex.com/ and theyíve dug deep into the sabermetrics foundation of Myers.
All of the numbers mumble-jumble is great and interesting and useful, but what this all boils down to is precedent.
Myers isn't just another baseball player making his way up the ranks. He's a stud among studs. He's the Big Man on a campus that stretches across the country and into other continents and if he's even half as good as Trout or Hayward or Jeter, than the Rays will have an offensive duo unlike Tampa Bay fans have ever seen.
Imagine him doing something remotely close to what Trout did this past season.
After the outfield wunderkind of the Los Angeles Angels won the 2011 MLPOY, posting a .326/.414/.544 line with 11 home runs, 38 RBIs, 82 runs scored and 33 stolen bases in 91 games, he exploded on the scene following his call-up on April 28 going on to have an All-World type season. He captured the AL Rookie of the Year after playing like Superman in center and batting .326 with 27 doubles, eight triples, 30 homers, 49 stolen bases, and 129 runs scored.
Perhaps the only glaring weakness of Myers is his strikeout tendency, 140 in 591 plate appearances on the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2012. But former Angels outfielder Tim Salmon, who had 166 strikeouts in 565 plate appearances on the Double-A level in 1991 and 103 in 510 plate appearances on the Triple-A level in 1992, managed to carve out a tidy 14-year career with the organization after winning the Minor League Player of the Year Award in 1992, despite having nine seasons with 100-plus strikeouts.
Salmon won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1993 after batting .283 with 35 doubles, 31 homers, and 95 RBIs and went on to have eight seasons with 20-plus homers, including five campaigns with more than 30 home runs.
"The thing about these types of high-level performers is they quickly get it and figure things out," another AL East talent evaluator told me. "That's what separates them from the rest."
Myers, who began his pro career as a catcher, has shown he can smack the ball, posting a .987 OPS in the 2012 campaign. In addition, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound outfielder also demonstrated he can make the necessary adjustments, going from 35 strikeouts in 95 at-bats with Triple-A Omaha in July to 24 strikeouts in 114 at-bats in August.
So, sure it's still too early to tell if the Rays were the clear winners in this one, but to me, Andrew Friedman got a gift that will keep on giving for years to come for Tampa Bay.