The honors are rolling in

Awards everywhere as the Royals begin to collect defensive accolades for the major league team and plenty of minor league hardware as well.

I wouldn’t say the offseason is in full swing. Like anything, it takes a bit to get used to the days without a Royals game. For six months, life revolves around The K for live baseball and Bally Sports on the TV. And now, both are outside my consciousness until next March.

So let’s do some notes on awards and accolades that are starting to roll in for the just-completed season. Those are enjoyable. Let’s have some fun!

Catching some accolades

Longtime readers know how much I enjoy The Fielding Bible and their Defensive Runs Saved metric. They posted about their leaders on Wednesday:

Having professed my love for The Fielding Bible, I remain somewhat confused by their lack of love for Nicky Lopez at shortstop. He finished the year at +3 DRS, which ranked him 14th among shortstops. Nevertheless, the Royals fielded an insane defense up the middle. Interesting to note that they have had the top defensive second baseman (according to DRS) in each of the last two years. Lopez led at the Keystone in 2020 with +9 DRS while this year Merrifield set the pace.

As the defensive accolades pour in (I fully expect Lopez to be in the final three at shortstop, along with Merrifield, Taylor and Salvador Perez honored at their respective positions), it will be interesting to see how the Royals handle all of this going forward. We will discuss it at length this winter, but how will they align their infield with four elite defenders and only three spots?

Bobby Witt Jr. is Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year

This is an impressive honor and one that is well-deserved for Witt Jr. who simply dominated at both stops in a wildly successful 2021 season. Hell, instead of my tired rehashing of his season, l’ll just let the Royals official release to the work:

Witt Jr., 21, split the season between Northwest Arkansas (AA) and Omaha (AAA), and in 123 overall games, he led all minor league players with 72 extra-base hits, while he ranked second in runs scored (99) and total bases (286), fourth in homers (33) and RBI (97) and fifth in hits (144). He recorded 35 doubles, 33 home runs and 29 stolen bases, falling just short of becoming the third minor league player since 1990 to record a 30-30-30 season. However, he’s the first Royals minor leaguer to record 20+ homers and 20+ steals in a season since Alex Gordon in 2006.

Witt, Jr. is the fourth Royals prospect to pick up this particular honor. Tom Gordon in 1988, Alex Gordon in 2006 and Wil Myers in 2021 were previous winners.

Witt, Jr. was also named to the Baseball America list of Top 10 prospects in both Triple-A East and Double-A Central leagues. He was joined on the Double-A team by MJ Melendez. I’m sure Nick Pratto just missed out on a position on either team.

As the minor league accolades pour in, it’s validation in the Royals’ revamped hitting program for instruction in the minor leagues. Despite Witt Jr. passing the eye test in short exposure in last year’s summer camp and in the Cactus League last March, there were still questions that needed to be answered around his game. Same for Melendez and Pratto, both coming off disappointing 2019 campaigns. The steps these three took individually, along with the organization as a whole, underscore the work Alex Zumwalt, the Royals Director of Hitting Performance/Player Development and his staff did in revamping the organization-wide approach at the plate. Of course, it doesn’t work without proper buy-in from the players.

Newsflash: It works.

MJ Melendez takes Joe Bauman award

See? Melendez wins this award by hitting more home runs than any other player in the minors.

From the official release:

The left-handed hitting catcher began the season with 28 roundtrippers in 79 games for Northwest Arkansas, before being promoted to Omaha on Aug. 9. He hit his final 13 homers in 44 games with the Storm Chasers. During a 40-game stretch from July 2-Aug. 18, Melendez didn’t go more than three games without a home run, hitting 18 during that span. He recorded six games with two HR and homered in consecutive games five times. He topped his previous career high in home runs (19 in 2018 with Wilmington) with his 20th homer on July 21 at Tulsa.

Melendez was just a monster at the dish this year.

Arizona Fall League rosters announced

The Arizona Fall League rosters were released on Wednesday. The Royals will be sending nine players as part of the club based in Surprise. The headliner is undoubtedly Asa Lacy. The left-hander, the Royals’ top pick at number four overall in the 2020 draft, pitched the entire year in High-A Quad Cities and finished with a 5.19 ERA in 52 innings. He whiffed 41 and walked…41. As you can tell from that ratio, the stuff was at times overpowering to hitters at that level, but the command was often spotty.

Here are the rest of the Royals on the Surprise Saguros roster.

  • Zach Haake

  • Stephen Woods Jr.

  • Luca Tresh

  • Nathan Eaton

  • Jake Means

  • Seuly Matias

Keep an eye on Tresh. The big fish of the third day of the draft, the Royals were able to get him out of NC State for a $423,000 bonus. He started his pro career in the Arizona Complex League and hit a cool .389/.421/.722 in six games. He was promoted to Columbia where he closed out the season on a different note, hitting .143/.231/.171 in 10 games.

The helium has been fully released from the Matias prospect balloon. At one time, Baseball America rated him as the Royals’ third-best prospect. He tumbled to 24 in the team rankings prior to this year and was nowhere to be found in their midseason update. He still grades out as the Royals’ best power hitter and best outfield arm in the system.

Postseason update

The National League Wild Card game was a little more enjoyable, wasn’t it? A 3-1 walkoff win for the Dodgers in a crisp 4:15. Los Angeles starter Max Scherzer wasn’t especially sharp, but was able to keep his team in the game. Adam Wainwright matched him through his 5.1 innings of work. It wasn’t a true pitcher’s duel, but it was good enough.

I can’t imagine the uproar had the 90 win Cardinals, who were a postseason afterthought until they caught absolute fire in September, knocked the 106-win Dodgers out of October. So now we get the Giants and Dodgers in one matchup in the NLDS. Doesn’t that seem a bit counterproductive? I’m excited as any baseball fan to see the two best teams of 2021 square off in a series, but shouldn’t baseball reseed the teams following the Wild Card round so the team with the best record plays the team remaining with the worst record? If we’ve learned anything from the Wild Card era it’s that the team qualifying for the extra spot in the tournament isn’t always the fourth-best team in the league.

Meanwhile, the American League tournament is set up properly, according to records. The Rays will open against the Wild Card Red Sox while the Astros will face the White Sox.

That’s a motley crew of AL teams. Pick your poison, I suppose.

I’ll go on the record here with the following picks:

Rays over Red Sox in four games.

Astros over White Sox in four games.

I should note that while I haven’t gone on the record with my picks in the past, they’ve almost always been incorrect.