Up until now, I’ve been led to believe that the reason Wil Myers hasn’t been called up to play for the Tampa Bay Rays is simply because of service time concerns and an attempt to maximize the Rays’ control of Myers before he can become a free agent (delaying a call up until after a certain point of the season may allow a team one more year of control over a player before free agency).
I’ve even heard it said that it seems like the Rays are willing to sacrifice an opportunity to win now, while they still have David Price (who will be a free agent after the season), just to get this extra year of service out of Myers.
But maybe It’s not Really About Service Time
On the June 12th edition of his Baseball Tonight podcast, Buster Olney interviewed Rays GM Andrew Friedman about Wil Myers’ development and the range of time when Myers’ could be called up, and here’s an excerpt of the response (the Friedman interview starts at about the 24 minute mark, the comments on Myers are around 33:40):
As much as we can continue that development while he’s there (in the minors) and not affecting us as we’re trying to win games is good. And that goes for any young player, I think. While we’re competitive it’s a little bit different in how we view our young players, and if we weren’t competitive we’d probably bring them up a little bit earlier. But it’s challenging in that we can’t just bring them up to the major league level to let them finish their development. ~ Andrew Friedman – General Manager, Tampa Bay Rays
Read That Again
So Myers isn’t toiling in the minors because of service time issues. And the Rays aren’t sacrificing their current opportunity to win. Quite the contrary.
The Rays are holding him in the minors because they think he could hinder their chances at winning now. He’s a rookie. They can’t afford for him to be learning on the job at this time.
Apply This Line Of Thinking To Your Team
When one of the brightest GMs in baseball believes a hyped prospect may hinder the Rays chances at making the playoffs, you should take note. Hyped prospects could derail your season too. This is as much a commentary about Myers’ struggles this year as it is a reminder that young players are risky. The hype and buzz surrounding prospects artificially inflate their perceived talent level.
As talented as they may be, even the best young players have a lot to learn when they get to the big league level. It may be more fun and more satisfying to win with sexy rookies on your team. But the safe, old trusty veteran may be your best play.
Kelly Johnson, surely a factor in delaying Myers’ debut, is on pace for 24 HR, 90 RBI, and 14 SB. Had Myers broken camp with the Rays and played a full season, those numbers would have been aggressive for him to achieve. Yet when Myers is called up, many will rush to the waiver wire to target him.
If you’re pushing for the title, stick with the Kelly Johnsons of the world (the productive 2013 version, at least), like Andrew Friedman is doing, and you’ll be better for it.
If You’re Not In Contention, Play the Lottery
For teams in contention, it doesn’t make sense to aggressively target the risky rookie. But if you are a ways out in the standings, you may need a lottery ticket to close the gap. In this example it makes sense to gamble that Myers explodes onto the scene in the major leagues.
There Is Middle Ground Here
It’s a little difficult to write this article with Yasiel Puig having dominated major league pitching in his first two weeks. But it has only been two weeks (remember Justin Upton’s start to the season), and the road of lost fantasy baseball championships is littered with hot fantasy prospects turned busts (Ackley, Smoak, Moustakas, Dee Gordon, Jesus Montero, Maybin, Andrew Miller, Matusz). Still, the possibility remains a prospect will catch lightning in a bottle. Which is why I wouldn’t condone a blanket ignoring of call ups. As with anything else, you must be smart about it and recognize when you’re overreacting.
Drop a reliable, solid starting outfielder for a Wil Myers type? No, sir. Have a deep bench and the last flyer you took has cooled off? Sure. Have keeper options in your league? Throw most of what I said out the window.
The Allure Of The Unknown
In a league of mine, Jose Fernandez was just dropped for Gerrit Cole. This is the epitome of overreacting to a prospect call up. Here you have a super-hyped prospect in Fernandez who is already excelling at the major league level, and he’s dropped for a more recently called up super-hyped prospect who may or may not be able to excel at this level.
Do some Simple Research First
I’m really just a normal guy with a blog. I’ve got a day job just like you. I have two young children. I don’t have the time to be fully up-to-date on all the top prospects. So my behavior is largely reactionary. I’ll hear murmurs that a player will be called up soon. I don’t do extensive research, but I do make it a point to at least look at their current minor league numbers before making any kind of decision.
Did you know Gerrit Cole only had 47 strikeouts in 68 AAA innings, while Fernandez has 77 strikeouts in 72 MLB innings?
Did you know Mike Zunino was hitting .238 in AAA before his recent call up?
Some quick research of minor league statistics at Baseball-Reference.com can help you filter through the prospect noise (Note: when you look up a player, you may have to click the “Show Minors” option to see their minor league stats).
One day, making the smart, strategic, and conservative decision will be the “sexy” way to go. But for now, be reasonable in your pursuit of the “next big thing” and don’t take for granted what you already have.