What's behind Royals' recent breakout with bats?

Melendez, Witt Jr. among players seeing good results on Zumwalt's watch in Majors

June 11th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- Around the middle of the afternoon every day, shortly after players show up to Kauffman Stadium, Royals hitting coordinator Alec Zumwalt and other coaches begin to set up the field for early batting practice. Most days, there’s a high velocity machine that can mimic game-like pitching, while others have included off-angle BP, when Zumwalt throws from either the left or right side of the mound, allowing hitters to hone in on their contact zone and time their swing better.

Watching these drills utilized signals the new offensive processes the Royals have hoped to implement since adding Zumwalt to the big league staff over three weeks ago.

So far, it seems to be paying off.

Friday night’s 8-1 rout of the Orioles was the latest offensive outburst, backing up Jonathan Heasley’s dominant start of seven scoreless innings and seven strikeouts, both career highs.

The Royals have scored at least seven runs in three straight games for the first time since Sept. 21-24, 2019, and contributions are rolling in throughout the lineup.

“You talk about how you need to feel it and see it,” manager Mike Matheny said. “When all the pieces come together, the extra-base hits, the situational hitting, good baserunning, good defense, and then starting with our starter, Heasley, doing what he did today ... just all the pieces, exactly like you want to continue to build confidence.”

When the Royals fired Terry Bradshaw on May 16, they transferred Zumwalt to the big league staff because of his crucial role in the resurgence of the Royals’ hitting prospects, most notably Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez, over the last two years.

Zumwalt’s group streamlined the processes throughout the farm system, from game-planning against pitchers to pregame work on the field. With two of those top prospects now in the Majors -- Melendez and Bobby Witt Jr. -- the Royals felt it was best to surround them with Zumwalt’s processes again, while hoping to see it catch on with other hitters.

“Truth is, there is no settling into this,” Zumwalt said on Friday as he spoke with media members for the first time since joining the Major League staff. “Especially coming in during the season, those circumstances, it’s, ‘Go,’ from the very first moment. … All of us are just working alongside each other and trying to find a rhythm, and each and every day, I feel like we’re getting more in line with where we want to go.”

And the Royals are starting to see their offense -- from the veterans to the rookies -- click. Salvador Perez is on a tear with a 10-for-31 homestand so far, including a two-run homer and a double on Friday.

Carlos Santana is hitting .278 in his last 15 games. Michael A. Taylor added a home run, his third of the year, and is hitting .407 (11-for-27) in his last nine games since May 16, with four multi-hit efforts.

As for the rookies, Witt was 2-for-3 on Friday with a walk, and Melendez crushed his second homer in as many days, a three-run blast in the fifth inning that traveled a Statcast-projected 425 feet with a 108 mph exit velocity. Melendez was looking for a first-pitch slider from O’s lefty Bruce Zimmermann, and when Zimmermann made a mistake, Melendez made him pay.

“I knew he was going to try to get me to chase something right there,” Melendez said. “And he ended up leaving it middle. Try to hit a mistake. We’ve had a lot more energy, lot more confidence lately, and you have more fun when you’re putting up runs like that.”

Zumwalt is also learning what players need from him every day. Some are more open to new routines than others because of what has worked in the past, so Zumwalt and the coaches meet the players halfway.

“That goes back to the advice Rusty Kuntz gave me years ago when I first came on the [player development] side,” Zumwalt said. “He said, ‘You’ve got to have a relentless love to teach and you got to have a relentless pursuit of creativity.’

“We’re trying to build on what we know has worked in the past and maybe have some open-mindedness to some things that maybe they haven’t done before. There’s just been a really good dialogue between a lot of us in trying to identify things that might be a way to help.”

Zumwalt’s goal is to help hitters know who they are at the plate and swing at pitches they know they can do damage with, while taking pitches they know they can’t -- all while preparing the best they can for that game.

“For me, it’s things I’ve done in the past that have helped me a lot,” Witt said. “Experimenting on things and learning what helps. It’s cool to see guys that are willing to test it out and see everyone kind of start buying into that.”