KC Royals: Double-A prospects binge on home runs

(Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images) /

The Northwest Arkansas Naturals’ Alec Marsh is a pretty good starting pitcher. So good, in fact, that MLB Pipeline ranks him the 12th best prospect in the KC Royals organization, and one of the farm system’s best pitchers.

Marsh provided a good taste of his talent Friday night. The righthander struck out seven and didn’t walk anyone in five innings against Springfield. He gave up two runs, both on singles, before the bullpen took over.

By any measure, the night was a good one for Marsh. But as the final score suggests—the Naturals beat the Cardinals 15-5—Marsh must share the headlines with his Double-A teammates. Four of them, also all top Pipeline prospects, unloaded on Springfield.

It was a home run derby of the Naturals’ own making, and Nick Pratto, Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, and Brewer Hicklen supplied the requisite homers. Smart money might have taken Witt as the ringleader of the six-blast barrage, but he wasn’t. Instead, Nick Pratto, Pipeline’s No. 9 KC prospect, was.

Pratto, who blazed his way through spring training with a .345/.406/.862 line and four homers, a performance suggesting his 2019 struggles may be behind him, was hitting only .200 with two homers when the game began. He quickly served notice that Friday evening would be special.

He hit a solo homer in the first inning. He followed up two innings later with a three-run blast, giving the Naturals a 4-0 lead consisting solely of runs he generated. His third homer of the night, a solo shot to center, came in the ninth.

Pratto also singled home a run in the fourth. He finished 4-for-5 with three homers and six RBIs and raised his average to .260.

Only fitting, considering his status as Pipeline’s No. 1 Kansas City prospect, was Bobby Witt Jr.’s contribution. His second home run of the season immediately preceded Pratto’s ninth inning homer and capped a 2-for-5, two RBI effort that edged his average back over Mendoza to .207.

Joining the attack with his fourth homer of the young campaign was catching prospect MJ Melendez. Ranked No. 14 in the system by Pipeline, Melendez’s shot came with no one on in the fourth. He also doubled, singled and drove in two runs.

Outfielder Brewer Hicklen supplied the quartet’s other home run—the No. 25 prospect belted a three-run, fourth inning blow that also scored Pratto and Melendez to give the Naturals an 11-0 lead.

All in all, Pratto, Witt, Melendez and Hicklen gave Northwest Arkansas all it needed. They accounted for 13 of Northwest Arkansas’ 15 runs and were a combined 10-for-21 at the plate.

Where might these four prospects fit in the KC Royals’ immediate plans?

What does the future hold for these four? Although the KC Royals are being careful not to rush Witt, whose regular season experience consisted only of 37 Rookie ball games before this season, will probably see Kansas City before the current campaign ends.

Pratto is back on the club’s radar, and is well in line to succeed Carlos Santana if Santana moves on after his current two-year deal expires after 2022.

Melendez is positioning himself to work into the KC Royals’ big league catching picture. Salvador Perez stands squarely in his way to the No. 1 spot, especially after signing his new four-year mega-deal that starts next season. Kansas City may not want to relegate Melendez to backup status, and could end up trading him if the right deal comes along.

Hicklen may be the farthest away from Kauffman Stadium, at least at this point. The KC Royals’ stock of outfielders renders his chances of near-future promotion slim, but his .278 average and .366 OBP accumulated over four minor league seasons, and his power potential (18 homers in 2018 and 14 in 2019), will keep him in the conversation, especially with current Royal outfielders Michael A. Taylor and Jarrod Dyson, and outfielder-DH Jorge Soler, playing on one-year deals.

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Whether or not Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez or Brewer Hicklen make it to the big leagues soon, they made Friday night an evening to remember for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.