SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Whit Merrifield never had to look very far to get batting tips. He only had to yell "Hey, Dad!" and the lessons began -- and they continue to this day.
"He [Bill Merrifield] definitely, even to this day, probably the best hitting coach I could ask for since he's seen me since I was 2 and could swing a bat," said Merrifield, a Royals prospect playing with the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League.
"I can tell him what I did at the plate, and he can probably tell me you're doing this or doing this, so it's nice to have somebody like that to always talk to, and he knows, he's been through it in the Minor League system, so he knows what to expect. He always tries to talk to me about where he messed up, where he did good, just different ways I can improve my game every day."
Merrifield, who was a ninth-round selection in the First-Year Player Draft in 2010, has been used in the outfield in the Fall League by manager Jason Wood. He has a team-high seven stolen bases, and is hitting .261 after the first 13 games.
Merrifield was promoted to Double-A late this season, appearing in 24 games and finished with a .260 average.
"Whit Merrifield's versatility is unbelievable," Wood said. "He's got speed, a little bit of power, he's got a versatility on defense to play a good spot up the middle and he can roam everywhere out there in the outfield.
"Great makeup -- he comes to play every day. He never complains about where he's going to play, he's just ready to play. He runs real well, he knows how to bunt, he knows how to play the game, and that's going to take him a long way in this game."
That being said, Merrifield knows the challenges that lie ahead and what he has to do to increase his strength, which he believes gives him an edge.
"Strength has always been a component of mine," he said. "I feel like, for my body type, I get the most out of what I'm dealing with, but I'm only 175, 180 pounds and so that's always been a big thing in the offseason for me to get bigger and stronger. Last year, I put on about 10 pounds and I'm looking to keep doing that.
"It's nice to see the level of competition we go against every day. I was fortunate to play in Double-A the last month of the year, and this has just kind of carried over from my Double-A experience. Facing better pitching on a daily basis does nothing but help you."
Merrifield became an instant hero at South Carolina after his walk-off single in the 11th inning in the College World Series title game in 2010 gave the Gamecocks their first NCAA baseball championship. Perhaps it was only fitting that he was the star of the game -- his father was a two-time player of the year in the ACC at Wake Forest and spent six seasons in the Minors.
"It's definitely the highlight of my baseball career at this point," he said. "To win the World Series is an incredible thing to do, and the way we got to do it was even more impressive.
"It was special not only for our team, but for our community. It was awesome."
Despite the accomplishments of father and son in baseball, Merrifield says the best athlete in the family is his mother Kissy, who was a five-time South Carolina tennis champion.
Royals hitters in the Fall League
Orlando Calixte found some pop in his bat this past season at Class A Advanced Wilmington in the Carolina League, putting together his best overall season in the Minors. The slight-of-build (5-foot-11, 160 pounds) shortstop began his career in 2010 and has shown steady improvement. In his 63 games in Wilmington, he hit .281 -- his best to date -- with 28 RBIs and eight stolen bases. In eight games in the Fall League, he is hitting .303.
Brian Fletcher, whose career total of 49 home runs at Auburn ties him for third place in school history with Frank Thomas, is the son of 15-year Major League infielder Scott Fletcher, who is now the roving infield instructor for the Colorado Rockies. The younger Fletcher has struggled this fall in the early going, batting .170 in 14 games while striking out 21 times in 47 at-bats. The outfielder was an 18th-round selection (539th overall) in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft and played 65 games in Double-A in 2012 with a .256 batting average.
Alex McClure advanced to Double-A for half the season in 2012, hitting .212 with nine RBIs and six stolen bases in 12 attempts. As a shortstop in the Fall League, the 11th-round Draft pick (329th overall) in 2010 has hit .207 with three RBIs in his first eight games.
Royals pitchers in the Fall League
Edwin Carl, a non-drafted right-hander, began the 2012 season at Class A, where he was used mainly as a starter at Kane County before being sent to Wilmington, where he was 2-2 with two saves in 22 relief appearances. In his first 8 1/3 innings in the AFL, he has a 1.08 ERA. In 2011, he was named MiLB.com Short-Season Reliever of the Year.
Jon Keck is a 6-foot-6, 215-pound left-hander, who was 2-2 after his promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2012. He struck out 42 in 42 1/3 innings with a 4.04 ERA. Keck, who holds the Bethel College career home run record (41), was selected in the 42nd round (1262nd overall) of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. In his first seven appearances in the Fall League, he had an ERA of 8.53.
Justin Marks was a third-round pick (332nd overall) by the Athletics in 2009. The left-handed starter, acquired by the Royals in 2010, enjoyed an outstanding Fall League start. He went 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA in his first five starts, making him the first 2012 Fall League hurler to reach four wins. It was nice lift for Marks, who struggled in his only start at Triple-A Omaha this season, allowing nine earned runs in 1 2/3 innings. He ended his college career as Louisville's all-time leader in wins, strikeouts and ERA.