Future is now: Archer, Myers help light Rays' way
Rookie of Year contenders differ in personality but share in pivotal contributions
ST. PETERSBURG -- On Jan. 22, a little more than a month after the Rays traded away the rock of their rotation for a young hitter with star potential, Wil Myers and Chris Archer met for the first time.
It happened at PNC Arena, in their shared home state of North Carolina, at a hockey game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes. They took a picture together standing side by side, and Archer posted it to his Twitter account with a "#Rays" hashtag and a short caption. He said it was meant to describe Myers, but he admitted it could be interpreted to apply to both of them.
The Rays have to make every move with one eye on the future, as executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman often says. They pride themselves on their ability to draft and develop, because cost-controlled players help their low-budget operation work as well as it has since 2008.
But these American League Rookie of the Year Award candidates were brought in from outside the organization, not drafted and developed. Archer, who turned 25 on Thursday, came from the Cubs as part of the Matt Garza trade following the 2010 season. Myers, 22, was the centerpiece of the Rays' return for James Shields.
With lower picks and a few misses in the Draft, Tampa Bay's farm system isn't churning out homegrown, Major League-ready players quite like it did in the days of Evan Longoria and David Price. So the Rays sold off valuable parts of their deep and talented, but increasingly expensive, starting rotation. Those deals were supposed to be for the future, but they're working out in the short term, too.
It's not as if Myers and Archer were thrown into the fire as soon as they joined the organization, however. Archer repeated Double-A in 2011, and Myers served more than two months in Triple-A this year. But they have been asked to play major roles at a young age for a team with postseason aspirations.
They've done so in different ways, Archer bringing a philosophical presence in addition to his power pitching and Myers providing a laid-back attitude along with his as-advertised ability at the plate. But so far, they've both delivered.
"We've got to be that group. We've got to continually turn it over and find those kind of guys, and Andrew and the boys do a wonderful job up there, and they always have," manager Joe Maddon said. "They're not just good trades for young players. They're Rookie of the Year candidates. That's kind of interesting."
Myers is arguably the front-runner for the AL Rookie of the Year Award, entering Friday with a .291/.351/.474 batting line, 13 homers and 51 RBIs in 84 games. He ranks first among AL rookies in RBIs, extra-base hits and slugging percentage and second in homers and on-base percentage. Since being called up from Triple-A Durham and taking his place in the middle of Tampa Bay's lineup, Myers leads the team in RBIs, runs, hits, doubles and slugging.
Archer has gone 9-7 with a 3.21 ERA in 22 starts for the Rays since joining the rotation on June 1. He's thrown two shutouts, one of them a 97-pitch, two-hit masterpiece in Yankee Stadium. Tampa Bay is 12-1 when Archer starts and pitches at least six innings.
Not bad for two guys who shared the cover of the Durham Bulls' media guide this spring.
"We kind of came up with rookie status at the same time, so it's looking like we could be together for a long time here," Myers said. "I think that's very exciting -- not just for us, but the whole team."
Archer said he would vote for Myers as the AL's Rookie of the Year, "because to me he is the most outstanding rookie." Myers, of course, said he would cast his vote for Archer.
"He's got great stuff. You don't see too many guys who throw in the upper 90s with that kind of secondary stuff," Myers said. "I don't even think he's tapped into his full potential yet."
So how would they settle on a winner?
"I don't know if there's any way to give co-Rookie of the Year," Archer said. "That would be awesome."
In a way, it's easy to think of Myers and Archer as one unit. They're on the same short list of the AL's best rookies and seemingly on the same path to being future stars. Rays fans imagine them as the second coming of Longoria and Price.
And there are a few similarities between the two rookies. Maddon has observed that both think about baseball in a way that's beyond their years. Archer makes it clear for everyone to see; he's a deep thinker, a good communicator and performs a unique pre-start routine involving visualization and meditation.
Myers isn't often thought of in the same way -- whether it's because of his bat flips or his nonchalant demeanor -- but he looks over scouting reports and approaches each at-bat with a plan in mind, too.
"Think about it. To be that good of a hitter, you have to see deeper and beyond the surface. You have to see things that other people don't see," Archer said. "We've had one-on-one conversations, and I'm like, 'Wow, that's why you're that good.'"
That's about it as far as comparisons go, considering their distinctive personalities. Take it from Myers.
"I don't know. I mean, our similarities, we're from North Carolina," he said, laughing and grasping for answers. "We're near the same age."
Where Archer comes across as thoughtful, often philosophical, Myers is direct and straightforward. When the cameras are on, Myers says "awesome" and "cool" a lot and turns questions about himself into answers about the team. His refreshingly honest attitude and unabashed brand of confidence initially drew raised eyebrows from those around him and eventually earned a nickname from Maddon: Ricky Bobby, Will Ferrell's simple-minded NASCAR driver in the movie "Talladega Nights."
"He's kind of like that," Maddon said, smiling before referencing one of the character's colorful quotes from the movie. "In the morning, he does something in an excellent manner."
"They're different in a lot of ways. Wil's a more laid-back type and very loose," said teammate Jake Odorizzi, who was dealt by the Royals alongside Myers and started the season with Archer in Durham's rotation. "That's what makes him what he is, just because stuff rolls off his back and he doesn't concentrate on any of the bad stuff."
Archer, on the other hand, is more introspective and cerebral. He loves pitching in the Major Leagues, but it's almost unfair to define him by his job. Archer is well-read and well-spoken, showing off an expansive vocabulary and displaying a passion for serving the community. He thinks a lot about who he is and why people are who they are.
Archer's Twitter posts range from motivational messages to "deep" thoughts, like asking if Earth could be considered a spaceship "since we are traveling on it through space." After a third straight subpar outing in early August, Archer gave reporters a typical baseball answer -- he just wasn't executing pitches -- then diverted into an unexpected comparison between his struggles and a tree needing to weather storms in order to grow.
Some might wonder if Archer is too thoughtful for a singularly focused game like baseball. The results would say otherwise. Either way, he's no Ricky Bobby.
"Arch is very in-depth. He's very tedious," Odorizzi said. "He does everything the right way."
Archer embraces the concept of individuality, that people's life experiences shape who they become -- a fitting idea, because he and Myers are practically a case study in it. They get along well, having become better friends in the Majors than they were in Durham. They're separated by about two years, grew up less than two hours apart and arrived here together at roughly the same point in their careers.
Yet here they are, performing right in the thick of a playoff race, with personalities as disparate as their positions.
"They're two different guys," Odorizzi said. "But they're great guys."
And they've turned out to be great additions for the Rays.
They might be the future, but they're no less a part of the present.