Melendez, Pratto, and Witt Jr. Earn Double-A Central Honors
SPRINGDALE, Ark - Minor League Baseball announced the league awards and All-Star teams for the three leagues that make up the Double-A classification and the trio of catcher MJ Melendez, first baseman Nick Pratto and infielder Bobby Witt Jr. combined to earn five Double-A Central All-Star honors and league awards.
Melendez was recognized not only as the Double-A Central All-Star catcher but was also named the league's Most Valuable Player. Pratto earned Double-A Central All-Star honors at first base while Witt Jr. received the Double-A Central postseason honors at shortstop, in addition to being named the league's Top MLB Prospect. The Naturals tied with the Tulsa Drillers for the Double-A Central lead with three All-Stars and led the league with five representatives in the league's postseason awards.
MLB Pipeline's No. 67 overall prospect in baseball, Melendez finished the season scattered across the Double-A Central leaderboards despite a promotion to Triple-A Omaha with over a month left in the season. He hit .285 (85-for-285), which ranked eighth and the catcher's .628 slugging percentage and .999 OPS both led the league, almost 100 points closer than the next closest hitter in both categories.
The native of Miami, Florida finished second in the Double-A Central in home runs with 28, just one behind Tulsa's Ryan Noda. In fact, Melendez led the circuit in home runs for nearly a month after his promotion and was only overtaken by Noda when he rattled off homers in three straight games, September 10-12 to pass the Naturals' catcher. The 28 homers by Melendez rank third-most in a single season in Naturals history, just three shy of the franchise-record of 31 set by Matt Fields in 2013.
Adding 13 more at Triple-A Omaha to finish with 41 long balls, Melendez was recognized on Monday as the first ever catcher to win Minor League Baseball's Joe Bauman award, as the Minors' home run king. Melendez also finished among the league leaders in runs batted in (65, 5th), extra-base hits 46, tied 3rd), total bases (187, 6th) and on-base percentage (.372, 8th).
MLB Pipeline's No. 65 overall prospect in baseball, Pratto opened the season with Northwest Arkansas and hit .271 (60-for-221) with 15 home runs and 43 runs batted in across 61 games. At the time of his promotion to Triple-A Omaha on July 18, Pratto led the league with his 46 walks and was the Naturals' team leader in doubles (13) before being later passed by Melendez.
Among Double-A Central hitters this season with at least 250 plate appearances, Pratto ranked tied fourth in on-base percentage (.404), tied second in slugging percentage (.570) and second in OPS (.974).
In the field, Pratto established himself as one of the best defensive first baseman in all of Minor League Baseball. Playing 516.2 innings at first base for the Naturals, he did not make an error in his first 46 games (390.2 innings) and across his 61 games at first base with Northwest Arkansas, made only one error for a .998 fielding percentage, the best among the league's first baseman who spent at least 150.0 innings at the position.
MLB Pipeline's No. 3 overall prospect in baseball, Witt Jr. began the season with the Naturals as well and like Pratto, played in 61 games before a mid-July promotion to Triple-A Omaha. He hit .295 (72-for-295) with 16 home runs and 51 runs batted in, while stealing 14 bases. At the time of his promotion, Witt Jr. led the league in runs batted in and total bases (137) but was passed by Melendez shortly thereafter.
The second overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, Witt Jr. predominantly played shortstop (50 starts, 419.1 innings) but also made eight starts at third base, where he did not make an error in 14 chances. His .975 fielding percentage at shortstop was the best in the league among those with at least 400.0 innings at the position.
When factoring in his stats with the Storm Chasers in Triple-A, the 21-year-old finished 2021 one stolen base away from a 30/30/30 season, with 35 doubles, 33 home runs and 29 steals. At the start of this week, Witt Jr. was recognized as Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year.
As the Double-A Central MVP, Melendez is the third Natural to be recognized as the top player in the league since 2008. In the inaugural 2008 season, first baseman Kila Ka'aihue was recognized as the Texas League Player of the Year, while Mike Moustakas received that same honor two years later in 2010. This is first time since 2016 the Naturals have had representatives on the league's Postseason All-Star team and just the second time in franchise history the club has had three Postseason All-Stars, only the 2010 Naturals with five representatives (1B Clint Robinson, 2B Johnny Giavotella, 3B Mike Moustakas, OF Paulo Orlando and OF Derrick Robinson) had more receive postseason honors.
The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. They play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Ark. For more information, including ticket options, promotions, groups, visit NWANaturals.com, and follow us on Twitter @NWANaturals and Facebook.com/Naturals.
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