The Kansas City Royals High-A affiliate won their league championship a night after their Single-A won theirs. Here are three takeaways from the series.
It would be a massive understatement to say that the future appears to be very bright for the Kansas City Royals. One night after their Single-A affiliate celebrated the Southern League Championship victory, their High-A affiliate celebrated their own league championship.
Wilmington was the eventual landing spot for many of the Royals’ top prospects after originally starting the season in Single-A. It’s a big reason Lexington had a first-half record of 37-32 but went 31-38 in the second half.
The good news for High-A is that they only seemed to get better with the promotions. The Blue Rocks finished with the second-best record in the Carolina League during the first half of the season at 44-25, atop the Northern division and went onto finish in the same fashion with an 82-56 overall record.
In the semifinals, the Blue Rocks were set to face the Salem Red Sox who finished with an unimpressive 67-70 record but took Wilmington to the brink of elimination. Salem took the first two games with 8-3 and 5-2 scores, respectively but Wilmington roared back and took the final three games.
The Houston Astros High-A affiliate, Fayetteville Woodpeckers, knocked off the Carolina League’s best team in the Down East Wood Ducks and were set to face Wilmington in a best-of-five series for the Carolina League Championship.
Wilmington, again, found themselves on the brink of elimination after splitting the first two games but losing the third. However, they took the final two games with matching 2-0 scores. Here were the 3 takeaways from their championship run.
The fact that the Blue Rocks came back twice from the brink of elimination says a lot about this group of guys. A lot of teams would panic and try to force things either on the mound or at the plate, which usually never ends well. In fact, in the decisive game 3, Salem took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 9th inning before Wilmington eventually won on a Brewer Hicklen walk-off bunt.
Again in game 3 of the finals, Wilmington found themselves down 4-2 heading into the bottom of the 7th inning before busting out for 3 runs, all coming with 2 outs to boot. It tells me that this team was well-coached and did the little things right.
2. Pitching shines
The pitching prospects were on full display in the playoffs. Daniel Lynch was roughed up in game 1 of the semifinals, going just 4.0 innings and allowed 12 hits, 6 earned runs, and 2 home runs. But Kris Bubic, Austin Cox, and Rito Lugo backed their teammate with consecutive quality starts.
Bubic went 7.0 innings with 11 strikeouts in game 3, Cox went 6 innings with 8 strikeouts in game 4, and Lugo went 6.0 innings with 10 strikeouts in game 5 of the semifinals.
Jonathan Bowlan struggled a bit in game 2 of the finals but Wilmington still managed to even the series. Cox, again, dazzled in game 4 with 6.0 innings of 1-hit ball while striking out 6 and Lugo nearly matched himself, going 6.0 innings with 6 strikeouts in the Carolina League Championship clincher.
3. MJ Melendez breaks through
To say that MJ Melendez had a rough year in Wilmington would be putting it nicely. The 20-year old and heir apparent to Salvador Perez slashed 0.163/0.260/0.311 with 23 doubles, 2 triples, 9 home runs and 54 RBI’s. However, Melendez struggled massively with strikeouts this season; 165 of them in 110 games.
He played terrific defense behind the plate, throwing out 60 percent of runners and a 0.991 fielding percentage. In the playoffs, Melendez carried over that terrific defense, throwing out 3-of-4 runners and committing no errors.
The surprising part was that his bat finally showed up to the party. In 10 games, Melendez slashed 0.300/0.447/0.500 with 3 doubles, 1 home run, and 6 RBI’s. He still struck out 12 times but took 8 walks. It could all be very encouraging heading into 2020.