Utility Work Ahead For Merrifield
South Carolina hero showing versatility for Royals
KANSAS CITY—Whit Merrifield is a rock star on the South Carolina campus.
Merrifield stroked the game-winning hit in the 11th inning to lift the Gamecocks to a 2-1 victory over UCLA in the decisive game of the 2010 College World Series championship, in what was the final at-bat at Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium, which has since been razed.
"It's something that will stick with me until the day I die," Merrifield said. "It was an incredible feeling to bring a championship to a college community that never experienced a championship in any sport before. It was an incredible experience especially to be the one to get that last hit. It was something special."
The Royals also made Merrifield a ninth-round pick that year. He said he loves Columbia, S.C., and the university and considered returning for his senior season, but he knew the storybook ending in Omaha would be tough to top.
"Going out the way I did, you can't draw a more perfect scenario to leave then what happened," Merrifield said.
Merrifield, 23, was an outfielder in college but is carving out a niche for himself as a utility player in pro ball. In a return to high Class A Wilmington this season, he was the team's player of the year, hitting .258/.333/.389 with 20 doubles and 25 stolen bases in 30 attempts. He earned an August promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where he hit .260/.314/.333 in 24 games. He played exclusively at second base with the Naturals, but with the Blue Rocks he played 17 games in center, 28 in left and 51 at second base.
"In the end, I think he's one of those guys that can play three outfield spots and fill in in the infield, primarily at second base," assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said. "He's a guy that even when we drafted him that could play multiple positions. When you look at the value that has on a major league team, all the teams that are winning have guys that can do things like that."
• Merrifield was one of eight players the Royals sent to play in the Arizona Fall League along with righthander Tim Melville, who was limited to 34 innings because of injuries.
• The Royals got squeezed out of their low Class A affiliation in Kane County by the Cubs, so they signed a four-year player-development contract with the Lexington Legends.