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TWitM: Melendez hits everything

This Week in the Minors: MJ Melendez earns league honors, Tyler Zuber great at pitching and life milestones, and more from all over the Royals farm system.

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Kansas City Royals spring training
MJ Melendez earned POTW honors following a scorching 12-hit performance.
John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

‘This Week in the Minors’ is our weekly look at notable performances from all over the system, from big-name prospects and less heralded guys alike. The mission is to answer this simple question: “Who had a good week?”

Today, we’ll cover results from Tuesday, June 29 through Sunday, July 4.

AAA Omaha Storm Chasers (34-19)

schedule | roster

Despite a tough week in St. Paul that saw the Saints (MIN) take four of six games from the Chasers, Omaha maintains their first-place position and a 4-game lead. The second place team happens to be Omaha’s upcoming opponent - the Toledo Mud Hens (DET) so the upcoming week will be a big one in the standings.

Ryan McBroom and Gabriel Cancel each added a pair of home runs, keeping their places near at and near, respectively, the top of the league leaderboard in that category.

Lefty Marcelo Martinez picked up his first Triple-A win on Thursday, pitching 5 13 innings with just five hits and one run (via solo homer) allowed. He struck out 7 and walked nobody, though he did plunk a batter.

Out of the bullpen, righty Tyler Zuber was called upon three times, and three times he kept the Saints off the scoreboard. And then on the day off yesterday, Zuber showed up at Werner Park for a different reason altogether - to propose marriage to his girlfriend Ashton. She said yes! (Go through all the photos to see where he hid the ring, it is great.)

(Full disclosure, a large part of including this here is that my husband and I were the photographers for the proposal! Leighann Westfall of the Storm Chasers front office designed the letters and balloon arrangements.)

AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals (27-25)

schedule | roster

The Naturals played seven games this week, with a makeup of an earlier rainout added to this series against the Springfield Cardinals (STL). The team has climbed up over .500 and is still only 3 games out of first place, with a lot of season yet ahead.

MJ Melendez wound up with Double-A Central Player of the Week honors, on the strength of his 12-for-30 performance that included a homer and four doubles. On the season, the 22-year-old catching prospect is batting .276/.365/.558.

Elsewhere in big-hitting prospects, Bobby Witt, Jr. piled up 11 hits in 27 at bats this week. He was also hit by three pitches! The league leaderboard for home runs still features Melendez and Nick Pratto at the top with 14, and Witt with 13.

Second baseman Clay Dungan also hit well this week, going 10-for-30 plus three walks and a HBP. Dungan gets overlooked sometimes behind the “big three” hitters in the Naturals lineup, but he has put together a truly solid season at the plate, with a slash line of .298/.372/.457.

Adv-A Quad Cities River Bandits (35-17)

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Quad Cities went 4-2 at home against the Cedar Rapids Kernels (MIN) to widen their division lead to 8 games.

3B/1B Jake Means spent a lot of time on base this week, thanks to six hits and five walks in 25 PA. He was also plunked once, and ended up scoring five runs and driving five in. In 17 games since his promotion to High A, Means has hit .322/.412/.695.

Sharing the hot corner with Means for the River Bandits is Jimmy Govern. Govern made the most of his playing time this week, driving in 7 runs in just three games. Four of his six hits went for extra bases.

LHP Anthony Veneziano tied a career high with 8 strikeouts in his 4-inning start on Thursday. He allowed one run on two hits and did not receive a decision in a game QC would go on to win 12-3.

Fellow lefty A.J. Block kept the good starting pitching going the next day, with seven Ks and one run allowed in 5 13 innings. That game was followed by another strong showing from Asa Lacy, who pitched a season-high 6 innings, with one solo homer allowed and 3 other hits.

Single-A Columbia Fireflies (27-23)

schedule | roster

The Augusta GreenJackets (ATL) took four games out of the six-game series this week to drop our Fireflies to 27-23. First-place Charleston (TBR) has continued rolling, so now Columbia faces an 8-game deficit in the division.

Shortstop Maikel Garcia was all over the basepaths this week. In addition to his 10 hits in 26 AB, Garcia also drew three walks. And in all that time on the base, he stole six bases in as many attempts. Garcia’s 22 steals on the season trail only utilityman Tyler Tolbert’s 27 for team lead. Tolbert hit his first homer of the season this week, and stole another trio of bases.

Quick detour from the usual rundown format: in a story by Alec Lewis at The Athletic this weekend, Brady McConnell shared about how his mental health got really dark even as his baseball career was going great on paper. It’s incredibly brave, in my view, to talk about these things while they’re so fresh. McConnell definitely took a risk, and put his trust in teammates, opponents, and each of us to receive his story in a supportive way. It just seems like a stark reminder to be kind in how we talk about players when their stats don’t reflect what we expect to see based on their draft position or prospect status. Here’s hoping that sharing his story has given McConnell some sense of peace, freedom, and community.

All right, back on the regular route:

Both of Columbia’s wins this week were closed out by right-hander Nathan Webb, who allowed no hits and struck out two in both of his appearances.

Righty Cruz Noriega pitched really well on Wednesday’s game, throwing five shutout innings with just two singles, a hit batter, and one walk allowed. The next day, a fellow Venezuelan added a great performance - lefty Emilio Marquez struck out 7 in a four-inning stint out of the bullpen. Marquez has blanked opponents in 9 of his 12 appearances, leaving him with an ERA of 1.39.

On Sunday, left-hander Luis De Avila struck out a career-high 6 batters in four shutout innings.

* * * * * * *

An encouraging dispatch from Arizona as Daniel Tillo works his way back from Tommy John surgery:

Did you go to any minor league games this week? Who stood out to you? With the draft coming up, who would you promote - bearing in mind that players can NOT skip Triple-A on the way to the Majors this year?