Strong Pitching Leads To A Quartet Of Titles On Royals' Farm
The Royals might be in a state of flux in the big leagues, but the tide is beginning to turn down on the farm. Four Kansas City affiliates won league championships, and another came up just short.
"It’s a pretty special year,” Royals assistant GM J.J. Picollo said. "You get those teams in the playoffs and you want all of them to do well, but to have four out of five win championships it’s a great experience for the players. It gives you a reason to celebrate as an organization. There’s a lot of pride in winning those championships."
The championships came from high Class A Wilmington, low Class A Lexington, Rookie-level Idaho Falls and the Dominican Summer League. Those four teams combined to go 225-196 in the regular season, good for a winning percentage of .534. Idaho Falls' championship was especially improbable, considering it finished with the worst overall record in its division at 34-41 despite winning the first-half championship and earning an automatic playoff berth.
"It speaks volumes for our talent,” Picollo said. "Our starting pitching was outstanding. Our relievers pitched phenomenal at all levels. It seemed every club had somebody step up. Some guys that had tough years got big hits along the way.”
After struggling most of the season with Wilmington, catcher M.J. Melendez—Kansas City's second-round selection in 2017 out of high school in Florida—was named the MVP of the Carolina League finals, hitting .333 with a home run. Zach Haake, a 2018 sixth-round pick out of Kentucky, threw six no-hit innings in a Legends’ playoff start against Hickory.
Another standout was Idaho Falls shortstop Clay Dungan, who hit .357 with a .921 OPS during 65 regular-season games after being selected from Indiana State in the ninth round of the most recent draft. A familiar name pitched the last two innings to seal the Chukars' championship. Jonah Dipoto, the son of Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, pitched at UC San Diego and was the Royals' 35th-round selection in 2019.
The younger Dipoto spun two innings of scoreless relief with a pair of strikeouts against a talented Ogden team to give Idaho Falls its first championship since 2013.