Witt Jr., Melendez earn prestigious awards

October 4th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- Two Royals prospects were crowned as royalty on Monday.

Top prospect was named as the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year for his accomplishments in Double-A and Triple-A. The infielder is ranked as the No. 3 overall prospect on Baseball America and MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 lists.

And after top Royals catching prospect launched 41 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, he claimed the Joe Bauman Award as Minor League Baseball’s 2021 home run king. Melendez is ranked as the Royals’ No. 4 prospect and No. 67 in baseball by MLB Pipeline.

Witt becomes the fourth Minor League player for the Royals to receive the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year Award, joining pitcher Tom Gordon (1988), then-third baseman Alex Gordon (2006) and outfielder Wil Myers (2012). Those four recipients match the Braves for the most by any club in the history of the award.

Witt split the season between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha and hit .290/.361/.575 to go with 33 home runs, 35 doubles and 29 stolen bases. He fell just shy of becoming the third Minor League player since 1990 to record a 30-30-30 season after his 30th stolen base was washed out by rain and a canceled game. But he did become the first Royals Minor Leaguer to record 20-plus homers and 20-plus steals in a season since Gordon in 2006.

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft played in 123 games during his second official professional season and he led all Minor League players with 72 extra-base hits. Witt also ranked second in runs scored (99) and total bases (286), while he was fourth in home runs and RBIs (97).

Witt and teammate Nick Pratto played in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Coors Field in July, and Witt was the starting shortstop and leadoff hitter for the American League.

Melendez becomes the third Royals Minor Leaguer to be crowned the home run king, joining Craig Brazell (2007) and Mike Moustakas (2010) since the Joe Bauman Award was first presented in 2002. Melendez experienced a significant turnaround in his offensive ability this season; in 2019, he hit just .163 and slugged .311 with nine home runs for Class A Advanced Wilmington.

But the 2020 season actually benefited him and other hitters who were at the alternate training site working directly with Royals staffers all summer. Melendez turned his big-time power into big-time production in ‘21, slashing .288/.386/.625 with 41 homers and 103 RBIs this season. He began the season with Witt and Pratto at Northwest Arkansas and joined them in Omaha in early August.

Melendez, 22, hit the second most home runs by a Royals Minor League player, training only Chris Hatcher’s 46 with Omaha in 1998. Melendez hit the most homers in an MiLB season since Kris Bryant hit 43 in ’14, and Melendez is the first primary catcher since Todd Green (40 in 1995) to hit 40 or more homers in a season.

Both Witt and Melendez are expected to make their MLB debuts in 2022 as the Royals move into the next phase of their rebuild and look to transition the power-packed group into the lineup in Kansas City.