Royals Farm Report’s 2021 MiLB Players of the Year Awards

I had more fun covering the Royals farm system this year than any of the previous three seasons I’ve covered here at Royals Farm Report. Maybe it was the absence of a 2020 season that made my heart grow fonder of the strange and wonderful land that is Minor League Baseball. Maybe it was the emergence of Michael Massey and Vinnie Pasquantino as legitimate prospects with big time bats in this system. Maybe it was the reemergence of MJ Melendez, the 2021 MiLB HR King, and Nick Pratto as legitimate top-100 prospects that we all thought they could be back in 2018. Maybe it was the crowning of Bobby Witt Jr. as legitimately one of the best two prospects of all of MiLB. Whatever it was, I had so much fun this year and hope you guys had as much fun following the site and Twitter account (@royalsfarm) as we did covering the system with you.

With that being said, it’s our pleasure to announce our 2021 Player of the Year Awards for the Royals minor league system. These awards are voted on by our staff and mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. They’re just the opinions of our staff, so if we leave your favorite player off, please don’t get angry with us. In any case, here are our 2021 Royals MiLB Players of the Year:

2021 MVP: Bobby Witt Jr.

Bobby Witt Jr. had one of the best offensive seasons in all of MiLB this year, combined it with what I would consider a brilliant defensive debut at SS, and is up to 28 stolen bases on the year after last night. Witt Jr. led all of MiLB with 70 XBH, finished 7th in total hits, 3rd in HR, 22nd in wRC+ (min. 350 PA), and 9th in OPS. All while playing in his first full professional season between AA and AAA. He might actually be the best overall prospect in all of baseball and ought to be the Royals starting 3B or SS on Opening Day in 2022. The future of this Royals offense is coming in hot, and it’s led by none other than their 2021 MiLB MVP.

Final Stats:
– .296/.367/.591/.958
– 9.1% BB%
– 23.4% K%
– .296 ISO
– 149 wRC+
– 32 HR
– 70 XBH
– 26 SB

Offensive Player of the Year: MJ Melendez

The 2021 MiLB HR King also finished 6th in MiLB in wRC+ and 3rd in OPS while playing two-thirds of his games behind home plate between AA and AAA. The 22-year old put himself right back on the radar for most top-100 lists with his power surge at the plate, but maybe more impressive is the fact that he cut his K% down from 39.4% in 2019 to just 21.7% in 2021. His K% is actually lower at AAA than it was in AA and his BB/K is 0.33 points higher in AAA than it was in AA. By all accounts, Melendez had one of the two or three best seasons of any prospect in MiLB this season, and was really only outdone by his teammate, Bobby Witt Jr.

Final Stats:
– .278/.379/.609/.988
– 14.4% BB%
– 21.7% K%
– .331 ISO
– 156 wRC+
– 38 HR
– 59 XBH
– 3 SB

Cy Young Award Winner: Drew Parrish

This was almost impossible to pick between Parrish and Jonathan Heasley, and while Parrish finished with 6.2 fewer IP than Heasley in 2021, Parrish all but outpitched him for most of the season. Parrish led all Royals MiLB pitchers (min. 70 IP) in ERA at 2.83, and finished 3rd in FIP at 3.16. His 98.2 IP for the season was the 4th highest mark in the system despite Parrish missing a couple of starts while he was working out with the US Olympic team early in the season. He struck out 30.1% of the hitters he faced this season while walking just 7.1%, and while his fastball velocity still isn’t spectacular, he did top out at 95 this season which feels like a significant step in the right direction.

Final Stats:
– 98.2 IP
– 2.83 ERA
– 3.16 FIP
– 30.1% K%
– 7.1% BB%
– 0.73 HR/9
– .194 BAA
– 0.99 WHIP
– 14.6% SwStr%

Defensive Player of the Year: Nick Loftin

This might actually be the hardest award to give away because it’s nearly impossible to judge different players at different positions. I went ahead and gave the nod to Nick Loftin here because he played a lot of SS, a lot of 2B, and some 3B this season and looked fantastic playing all three positions. Because of all of the bats currently ahead of him in the system, Loftin’s going to have to find value for this team at different positions, wherever he’s called to play on any given day. He did that marvelously in 2021, moving off of SS at times for Maikel Garcia and Jeison Guzman, and moving to 3B at times when Michael Massey was playing 2B. Loftin gets lost in the shuffle with all of the aforementioned bats having success at the upper levels, but by no means should he be forgotten about in this system. He’s still every bit the top-10 prospect he was preseason.

Final Stats:
– 2B: 178 innings, 22 PO, 44 A, 4 E
– SS: 401.2 innings, 62 PO, 86 A, 8 E
– 3B: 97 innings, 6 PO, 18 A, 2 E

Reliever of the Year Award: Will Klein

Another decision that became more and more difficult the more we looked at it. Dylan Coleman and Josh Dye had legitimate cases for this award, but we tipped the cap to Klein due to the number of innings he threw in 2021 and the fact that he finished 2nd in the org in FIP (min. 50 IP). Klein started the year in the bullpen, even though I really thought there was a chance he could start by now, and absolutely dominated A-ball hitters from start to finish. A 2021 draftee, Klein is still just 21 years old and was in his first bout with pro ball this summer. His fastball can reach 102 mph at times and even though he only finished 19th in the org in IP this year, he finished 3rd in K. He struck out more batters in 70.1 IP this year than Jonathan Heasley did in 105.1. The kid is a weapon in the making, and could be in the big leagues by this time next year, similar to the progression Dylan Coleman made this year.

Final Stats:
– 70.1 IP
– 3.20 ERA
– 2.99 FIP
– 40.9% K%
– 14.9% BB%
– 0.51 HR/9
– .171 BAA
– 1.24 WHIP
– 14.0% SwStr%

Best Base Runner Award: Tyler Tolbert

Another award that’s hard to judge across levels, Tyler Tolbert gets the nod here mostly due to the fact that he led the org with 55 SB (on just 57 attempts) and 7 triples. That CS number is crazy for a guy that runs that often. For reference, Dairon Blanco finished 2nd in the org with 41 SB but was caught 12 times in the process. Tolbert might be the fastest player in the org at the moment, and while he hasn’t hit much just yet, he actual plays really serviceable defense at a multitude of positions that make his speed a legitimate threat to carry him to the big leagues at some point. Think of Jarrod Dyson, coming in to pinch run AND providing some great defense in the late innings.

Final Stats:
– 55 SB
– 2 CS
– 96.5% Success Rate
– 7 Triples

Most Improved Player Award: Nick Pratto

Nick Pratto looked was an unmitigated disaster in 2019. He and Melendez really had pretty similar numbers across the board offensively, so we could’ve gone with Melendez here as well, but at least Melendez was fantastic behind the plate all year for the Wilmington Blue Rocks (A+). Pratto was that bad offensively and was doing while playing 1B, a position that you simply must have above average offensive production from regardless of defensive ability. Pratto still struck out quite a bit this year, over 28% of the time between AA and AAA, but that number is down 6% from 2019 and his overall offensive production has SOARED to career highs. Pratto may not break camp with the big league club next year as they may want to get that K% in check a bit before his final promotion, but it won’t be long until he’s a permanent fixture in the big league lineup either.

Final Stats:
– .261/.382/.579/.961
– 15.2% BB%
– 28.7% K%
– .318 ISO
– 150 wRC+
– 31 HR
– 64 XBH
– 11 SB

Biggest Surprise: Vinnie Pasquantino

Call me crazy or call me for dinner, but we couldn’t possibly be higher on Pasquantino than we are at present. The two biggest things we look for in a hitting prospect are production and likelihood for future production. Well, Pasquantino posted a 152 wRC+ in his first bout with professional baseball in 2019. There’s your production. On the future production side, Pasquantino has a very short swing, great hands, and backs that with an immense amount of raw power. If Pasquantino had a better track record or came from a better college, no one would question this. There’s always a chance we’re dead wrong and Pasquantino is out of pro ball by the end of 2022. I have a feeling that won’t be the case.

That’s what I wrote about Pasquantino in our preseason rankings this past offseason. I may have never been so right about…well…anything before. In all seriousness, Pasquantino showed signs of having massive breakout potential this year and I’m not sure how many people were bought in. If it weren’t for Pratto’s renaissance at the plate, there’d be a non-zero chance that Pasquantino would already be knocking down the door of the big leagues. He’s not Rule 5 eligible until next offseason, so I’m not sure exactly how he fits onto the 40-man roster until midseason in 2022, but he has been a freaking monster in every way at the plate this year. I threw out a Billy Butler comp on Pasquantino recently and folks keep asking where he slots in, every team needs a good DH. In 2014 the Royals had Butler, in 2015 they had Morales, maybe in 2024 it’ll be Pasquantino anchoring the middle of the lineup in the playoffs.

Final Stats:
– .300/.394/.563/.957
– 12.5% BB%
– 12.5% K%
– .263 ISO
– 154 wRC+
– 24 HR
– 64 XBH
– 6 SB

One thought on “Royals Farm Report’s 2021 MiLB Players of the Year Awards

  1. Pingback: 2021 End-of-Season Rankings Update | Royals Farm Report

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