No one has shown as much determination to succeed for the Kansas City Royals as the former ninth-round pick from the University of South Carolina, Whit Merrifield.
While being picked in the ninth round is a pretty nice accomplishment, it is definitely not a glamour pick. For the first seven years of his minor league career, “Two-Hit Whit” (except for an outlier .319/.371/.840 slash split between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha in 2014) never put together a great offensive season. Even in 2016 when he made a splash in half a season with the Kansas City Royals, Whit Merrifield was not set on the MLB roster as he was shipped back to AAA.
Truly amazing, considering how things have turned out, is that Merrifield was available to any team via the Rule 5 Draft and not one club felt he was worth taking a risk on. His grit and belief in himself have been appreciated by all Royals fans. His contributions the last three full seasons include leading the majors in hits twice (I’ll get to that in a minute), leading the American League in stolen bases in 2018, compiling a .295/.344/.444 slash for his big league career and WAR’s of 3.4, 4.5 and 3.0, respectively.
Back to leading the league in hits in consecutive years stat. It is a feat that has only been completed by a group of elite hitters during the last several decades. Pete Rose, Kirby Puckett and Tony Gwynn are all in the Hall of Fame and Ichiro Suzuki will be there in a few short years. While Merrifield has a long way to go for that recognition, you can see he has put together a two-year run that is historic.
His path to the major league roster was never guaranteed and even a decent rookie year performance did not cement his inclusion to the big leagues. By working and training hard he is the perfect role model for young players like Ryan O’Hearn, Adalberto Mondesi, Nicky Lopez and also the talented crop of players who will grace the Kansas City Royals roster in the very near future.
Hopefully, players who have enjoyed great success in the Royals minor league system in 2019, especially ones blessed with more talent than Merrifield, pay attention to how he carries himself on and off the field. Winning is not just about talent, it is having the fortitude to push through tough times.