Royals fans were treated to a Sunday gem by Daniel Lynch, their top pitching prospect, and they have been monitoring the work of top prospects Bobby Witt, Jr., Nick Pratto, and MJ Melendez. Royals fans expected that coming into the season. One thing that even the most loyal fan probably didn’t expect was a second baseman mashing his way onto future Royals prospect lists.
Coming into 2021, neither Baseball America nor MLB Pipeline ranked 2019 draftee Michael Massey in their top 30 prospects. Some of this was with good reason, many hadn’t seen much of him since a back injury limited his skills somewhat at Illinois and pushed him to the fourth round. That same injury put him down for a couple of weeks in Burlington during his first year in pro ball, and then the pandemic kept him out of sight.
That is no longer the case this season, with Massey smacking 15 doubles and 15 home runs in 62 High-A games, Massey is a key factor in the middle of an offense that leads the High-A Central league in a few different offensive categories while leading the division by seven games. This season’s emergence shows he was overlooked in the draft, and the Royals’ hitting development staff is unlocking more than just the biggest names. I got a chance to catch up with Massey the other day to find out about his journey and what has him clicking this season.
Clint Scoles: I had heard from J.J. Picollo that you were hitting well in Arizona last fall before a slow start. What was going so well compared to what happened early in the year?
Michael Massey: Arizona is a friendly hitting environment, and I was doing a good job with my timing and keeping a repeatable swing. We got up here, and it’s a little colder, I started pulling off balls. In this game, an 0-for-4 can turn into a 5-for-50 quick, but the staff did a great job of keeping my head straight and getting me to stick to the plan until I started feeling better.
CS: You had an injury that pushed you down in the draft a little was that frustrating for you to see that maybe you should have gone earlier?
MM: You know I may have gone earlier, but if I’m fully healthy, maybe my asking price pushes me down further. I could have hit better or run better, and things may have worked differently. You can’t look at it that way. I’m just lucky I ended up in the organization that I did. I was a little afraid of the pro game because I heard a lot about it while I was in college, being a selfish game. That’s not the case in this organization, as it’s more focused on being a team and family. The draft is an interesting thing, but it couldn’t have worked out better the way it did.
CS: How did you injure your back?
MM: It happened on a Monday my sophomore year. I wasn’t really focused during a weight session and felt a pop during a deadlift. I ended up getting a herniated disk. I thought I could play through it being young and didn’t take time off when I should have. It was bad timing as I was heading to the Cape Cod League that offseason, something I had worked for and didn’t want to miss. After that, Illinois plays an offseason trip every few years, we headed down to Curacao to play the Curacao national team. I was supposed to be a leader my junior year so I couldn’t miss time and ended up playing through it for 18 months. I ended up being a designated hitter my junior year for about the first 30 games until I just had to push out there to show I could move. The COVID break was big for me to give it a rest and get it fully healthy.
CS: Being from Illinois, how nice is it to be so close to the family where they can come and see you play?
MM: It’s nice to have that support system here in the Quad Cities. Even on the road, most places in the league are just a three-hour road trip. With the ebbs and flows of baseball, it’s nice to look up in the stands and see them there.
CS: Is finally being fully healthy the key to you showing this much power?
MM: It’s a part of it, I’m able to be more rotational. Also, the hitting staff has done a great job of teaching me the motor to my swing is through my hips and lower body. I had a more handsy swing in school, geared to line drives and going back up the middle. It was more hands focused and getting my barrel to the ball, and sometimes a double might carry out. Now it’s more about using my lower body to get my barrel there. Using my lower body allows my barrel to stay in the zone longer, and the rotation allows me to drive the ball. I’ve learned sequencing from them and just putting myself in a spot with the count to know it’s a 3-1 pitch that I need to look at drive something.
CS: How much has being in a lineup that is 9 to 11 hitters deep helped you out?
MM: It’s been awesome and is a huge part of the success I’m having. We are pushing each other, and it’s constant action. It doesn’t matter if we’re no-hit for six innings. A guy gets a hit and gets us going, and it’s a domino effect.
With the possible trade of Whit Merrifield coming, Massey may be getting a longer look as the eventual second baseman of the future. From the sounds of it, the coaching staff has helped unleash his powerful bat, while his sure hands and arm have him equipped to be an impactful double-play partner to Bobby Witt, Jr.