Witt (436-ft. HR) sets tone as KC youth shines

Melendez homers in second straight game as Royals even series

May 19th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- Those watching Wednesday night’s Royals game at Kauffman Stadium got a glimpse of what the future is going to look like in Kansas City, with two of the Royals’ top prospects and keys to their future success homering in the same game for the first time in the Major Leagues.

Bobby Witt Jr. and MJ Melendez both went deep in the Royals’ 6-2 win over the White Sox, evening the five-game series ahead of Thursday’s finale and winning back-to-back games for the first time since April 19-20.

“We’ve talked about what you have to do to get the offense going,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Two-out hits … and then just drive the ball when you get the opportunities. A couple of young guys provided a lot of excitement. It’s fun to watch.”

On the day Witt graduated from No. 1 prospect status on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list (he reached 130 at-bats in the Majors), the tools that put him on the top of that list were ever apparent. He made several key defensive plays look easy at shortstop, and he flashed his power with a 436-foot home run in the third inning, crushing a hanging curveball from Lucas Giolito to left-center field and nearly splashing it into the fountains.

All four of Witt’s home runs this season have gone 400-plus feet: 417 feet, 427 feet and the last two coming in at 436 feet. That’s serious power from the 21-year-old -- but not surprising because of his strength and bat speed.

“He just hits the ball hard,” Matheny said. “That’s what he’s always done through the Minor League system, even as an amateur, it’s the thing that’s always stood out consistently, being able to have hard contact. That’s going to turn into good things.”

Later, it was Melendez’s turn. With one out in the eighth inning and Hunter Dozier on third base, Melendez jumped on a first-pitch cutter from White Sox reliever Ryan Burr.

It carried to the same place Witt’s homer did to left-center, albeit a few feet shorter at 428 feet. Melendez has now homered in back-to-back nights, coming off his first career blast on Tuesday.

In between Witt and Melendez’s home runs, two other young players taking advantage of playing time contributed to the scoring. Melendez singled in the sixth inning and raced from first to home on Emmanuel Rivera’s triple, and Rivera scored on Kyle Isbel’s sacrifice fly moments later.

And just as exciting for the youth displayed Wednesday was the way Melendez called the game behind the plate, with veteran starter Zack Greinke allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings and the Royals’ bullpen locking things down from there.

“I thought he did a great job,” Greinke said. “Framing was really good. …Called some pitches that weren't on the scouting report at that time, but actually made a lot of sense. …

“In our scouting report, he seemed like he knew just as good as anyone what the plan might be. That was impressive, that [he was] confident enough as a young guy to say something. I was impressed. He has a long way to go in his career, but today he did great.”

That’s high praise from a likely future Hall of Fame pitcher.

“That’s one of the best compliments I could get,” Melendez said, smiling. “I told my dad, ‘This made my day. Probably better than the home run, almost.’”

Melendez got a feel for the way Greinke pitched by watching his starts the past few weeks and being in every starter’s meeting regardless of whether Melendez was catching that night. With Salvador Perez now on the injured list, Melendez will be catching most games as Perez helps plan in meetings.

“[Greinke] knows what he’s doing, he’s seen plenty of hitters throughout his time in the big leagues,” Melendez said. “So just trying to follow along with what he wants and catch on to that. See how he likes to set up the hitters.

“Trying to get him to shake off the least amount of times possible just by thinking along with him.”

This kind of talent, from the defense to the power on offense, was seen daily last season when Witt and Melendez -- who was crowned the MiLB home run king last year -- dominated Triple-A in the back half of 2021.

And while there are undoubtedly still going to be ups and downs as they settle into the next level, that future talent in Kansas City is taking shape, something the Royals want guiding them for years to come.

“It’s super special,” Witt said. “I saw it all last year, now seeing it in the big leagues is awesome.”

Melendez added: “Looking forward to doing that a couple more times this year, hopefully.”