Like two heavyweights exchanging blows in the final rounds of a prize fight, the Royals' MJ Melendez and Marlins' Griffin Conine are turning up the heat in the race for the Minor League's home run champion.
Melendez homered three times and finished with four hits and three RBIs to propel Double-A Northwest Arkansas to a doubleheader sweep of Arkansas at Dickey-Stephens Park on Wednesday.
The competition should lead to some good-natured ribbing when the season is completed, but there will be no animosity in this bout ... for a very specific reason.
"The funny thing about what's going on with us is that his dad [former Major League All-Star Jeff Conine] will be the assistant coach for my dad [Mervyl Melendez] at Florida International University next season," Melendez said. "It's a good bed Griff and I will be seeing and working out a lot together in the offseason."
Adding to the two-man Home Run Derby was the tête-à-tête between the duo, who combined for five homers after Conine went deep twice for Double-A Pensacola. Wednesday's three jacks continued a power-packed stretch for Melendez, who has left the yard 15 times in 30 games since July 2.
The 22-year-old has not gone more than three games without a home run in that span and is batting .336 with 33 RBIs and 24 extra-base hits since the beginning of July.
"I don't think I've ever had this type of stretch for this long, at least that I can remember," said Melendez, who has equaled his home run output from his last two seasons combined. "I've done a lot of good work with our staff and have bought into the process. Anything that we work on, I've tried to continue developing it and trusting in it no matter the results. I know if I do that, those results will end up being positive."
An eye-opening 19-homer season in 2018 during his first full-season campaign put Melendez on the prospect landscape. However, he followed that up with a nightmare season, batting well below .200 while striking out 165 times in 110 games. Through 76 contests in 2021, the Daytona Beach, Fla., native has put together a .294/.380/.650 slash line with 46 extra-base hits and 65 RBIs.
"I consider myself more of a gap hitter with power than a true power hitter," Melendez said. "The assumption with sluggers is that they have a swing-and-miss mentality at the plate. I've made an effort to really cut down on that and improve my chase rate. My focus is on driving the ball hard somewhere and if I happen to get under it a bit and it goes out, then that works too."