KANSAS CITY -- The Minor League season is back, and that’s a cause for celebration all around baseball, including Kansas City. The Royals rely heavily on their player development, and while the front office lauded the work that players and staff at the alternate training site put in last year, it’s hard to simulate the competition and atmosphere players have as they progress through the farm system.
“We’re excited that we’re going to be back performing in the Minor Leagues, especially for an organization that relies so heavily on scouting and player development, and transitioning our homegrown players to the Major Leagues,” general manager Dayton Moore said earlier this week. “… We took advantage of the opportunities we were given [last year].
"But there’s nothing that beats being a Minor League affiliate with fans in the stands and the travel, the competitiveness that you go through when you’re competing against a team with another jersey on. Nothing can beat that.”
On night one, Kansas City top prospects showed off the improvements they’ve made over the past year despite no Minor League games in 2020.
Right-hander Jackson Kowar, ranked as the Royals’ No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline, struck out nine in 5 1/3 scoreless innings in his Triple-A debut on Tuesday night against St. Paul (Twins). Outfielder Edward Oliveras tripled and scored in the first inning before launching a three-run homer in the second to help the Storm Chasers to an 8-2 win.
In Double-A, catcher MJ Melendez (No. 14) flashed his power with two home runs in the fourth and fifth innings. The 22-year-old has made big improvements with his swing since the last time he played in a Minor League game, and he was beginning to see it translate near the end of Spring Training. Now he’s making his presence in Double-A known immediately.
Lefty Angel Zerpa (No. 29) allowed one run in five innings with seven strikeouts in High-A Quad Cities' 7-4 loss to South Bend (Cubs). And rain postponed Low-A Columbia’s opener, with right-hander Adrian Alcantara’s start pushed back. All in all, though, it was a good first night for most of the Royals’ Minor Leaguers across the system.
“Just watching each of them take the next step, some of them jumping up to Triple-A, the Double-A team looks solid as well,” manager Mike Matheny said. “And our new Quad Cities club, looks like they’re going to have some thunder in that lineup. We know we’ve got some exciting arms all the way through.
“It’ll be something I’m looking at every single day and try to encourage some of the guys when they have a good day. MJ got a fantastic start yesterday, just a little bit of encouragement for the things he’s been working on. Nick Pratto homered at the [Double-A] level, and Vinnie Pasquantino [who homered for Quad Cities]. Watching these guys and following their numbers, just rooting them along from a distance.”
Fired up to face tough arms
Starting with Wednesday’s matchup against 2020 American League Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber, the Royals are set to face some big arms over the rest of this week’s homestand against division opponents: Cleveland’s young phenom Triston McKenzie on Thursday, White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodón (who threw a no-hitter earlier this season) on Friday, Lance Lynn (who shut out the Royals in April) on Saturday and Lucas Giolito (the White Sox Opening Day starter) on Sunday.
Matheny says bring it on.
“If you’re going to be the best, you’re going to have to beat the best,” Matheny said. “We’ve got some really good pitching that we’re going to be up against, and that fires me up because I think a club like this responds to that really well. Taking ownership on plays, taking ownership on at-bats. It’s going to be a fun rest of this homestand.”
Salvy’s Statcast feat
If you thought the home run that Salvador Perez hit on Tuesday night jumped off his bat harder than you’ve ever seen it do before, that’s because it did. The 114.2 mph exit velocity was the hardest-hit home run by Perez since Statcast was introduced in 2015, beating out his previous career-best 111.3 mph jack against the Twins in 2017. It was also his longest home run since '15 at 460 feet, beating out his 459-blast against the Blue Jays on April 17.