Bobby Witt Jr.: Royals 2021 Minor League Player Of The Year
While winning the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year award is a singular achievement, shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. was not the only Royals prospect to break through in 2021.
Catcher M.J. Melendez and first baseman Nick Pratto also were named first team Minor League All-Stars. Like Witt, they climbed from Double-A Northwest Arkansas to Triple-A Omaha.
Melendez led the minors with 41 home runs. Pratto tied for second with 36. Witt hit .290/.361/.575 with 33 home runs and 29 stolen bases in 123 games.
Such success for that trio would have been difficult to envision two years ago, when Witt had an uneven pro debut and Melendez and Pratto scuffled through miserable seasons at High-A Wilmington.
The development of all three was no accident. Royals general manager Dayton Moore was determined to take a new path in developing the organization’s hitters.
Moore began executing his vision in August 2019, when he promoted Alec Zumwalt to director of hitting performance/player development. The duo then hired new hitting coordinators Drew Saylor, Keoni De Renne and Mike Tosar.
The Royals' hitting team then spent significant time exploring different techniques and technology. The new processes continued into 2020 and provided a framework that allowed the players to work individually in the early days of the pandemic.
That work continued at the Royals' alternate training site, where Witt, Melendez and Pratto regularly faced more advanced pitching.
“For players like Bobby, you know he wasn’t going to face that consistent competition in Low-A,” Zumwalt said. “The growth that’s happened through (the alternate site) . . . it was not ideal in any way, shape or form, but I really think that we made the best of that situation.”
Instead of a cookie-cutter approach to hitting, the Royals staff put together individual plans for every hitter in the organization. The Royals used existing minor league hitting coaches to implement the new plan.
“These hitting coaches have really grown during this stretch as well,” Zumwalt said, “and been open to the ideas that have been brought in . . . These guys are the backbone of the hitting department. They were here before Dayton put me in this role."
— Two of the Royals' six domestic affiliates won minor leauge championships this year. Northwest Arkansas captured the Double-A Central crown and Quad Cities won the High-A Central. The River Bandits' 77-41 record ranked as fourth best in the minor leagues, and the High-A roster was headlined by middle infielders Nick Loftin and Michael Massey.