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The best home run seasons in Royals minor league history

That’s a lot of dongs!

Houston Astros v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

This week, Ryan McBroom hit a 470-foot bomb for the Omaha Storm Chasers, his 30th home run of the year. He became the third Royals minor leaguer to reach the 30-home run mark this season, joining MJ Melendez (37) and Bobby Witt, Jr. (31), and Nick Pratto will join that list as well with his next home run.

Before this season there had only been 19 Royals minor leaguers in the history of the franchise to hit 30 home runs in a season. Here are the top home run seasons in Royals minor league history.

Kit Pellow, 1999, Omaha (Triple-A) - 35

Pellow is kind of a real-life Crash Davis. The Olathe-native was drafted by the Royals out of the University of Arkansas and mashed right away. He hit 18 home runs in 71 games in the short-season rookie Northwest League, and hit 52 home runs the next two seasons combined. In 1999, he played on an Omaha team that smacked 231 home runs, easily the most in the Pacific Coast League. Pellow finished second in the league with 35 home runs (ahead of a young Twins slugger named David Ortiz), but the Royals didn’t even call up the 25-year old third baseman for a cup of coffee.

Pellow would hit 104 home runs for Omaha over four full seasons with them, earning a cup of coffee with the Royals in 2002. He would then become a journeyman, going from the Rockies organization to the Mariners’ top farm team before becoming an international baseball sojourner. He would go to:

  • Korea
  • Mexico
  • Taiwan
  • Mexico again
  • Lincoln, Nebraska
  • Calgary, Alberta
  • Mexico
  • Calgary again
  • Mexico a third time
  • Schaumberg, Illinois

He hit 198 home runs in 915 minor league games, plus 154 home runs in 642 games abroad. In all, he was paid to hit 374 home runs as a professional baseball player. I wonder if he ended up with Annie.

Calvin Pickering, 2004, Omaha (Triple-A) - 35

Big Cal Pickering was an early internet sensation among Royals fans. He is one of the largest men ever to play Major League Baseball. His Baseball Reference page lists him at 283, but he tipped 300 as a minor leaguer, and that weight caused a lot of injuries that cost him chances. The Virgin Islands native could absolutely mash, but he had only received short stints with the Orioles, Reds, and Red Sox before the Royals signed him out of the Mexican League in 2004.

Pickering hit 10 home runs in his first games with Omaha, making him a sensation. He would play in just 89 games, but still managed to hit 35 home runs, one shy of league leader Kevin Witt, who hit 36 in 131 games. He was called up to Kansas City and hit .246/.338/.500 with 7 home runs in 35 games down the stretch, putting him in line to possibly be the starter in 2005. He beat out former All-Star Ken Harvey to make the Opening Day roster, but he lasted just seven games, hitting .148, before being demoted, and he would never play in a MLB organization again after that year.

Sean McNally, 1999, Wichita (Double-A) - 36

I have been a pretty big Royals fan for about 30 years and I have no memory of this kid. The Royals took McNally in the 16th round of the 1994 draft out of Duke, and the third baseman put up decent numbers in his first few pro seasons, if not a bit underwhelming. He smacked 17 home runs in 95 games in the tough-hitting environment in Wilmington, but then hit just six the next season for Wichita.

So it was a bit surprising when he slammed 36 home runs for Wichita in 1999. The Wranglers finished 83-57 and won the Texas League championship, with McNally setting the pace offensively. The Royals let him walk as a minor league free agent after the year, and he hit just 12 home runs with the Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate the next year. By 2003, he was out of baseball, having never reached the big leagues.

Mike Moustakas, 2010, Wichita (Double-A)/Omaha (Triple-A) - 36

Like Bobby Witt, Jr., Mike Moustakas was once a top infield prospect absolutely destroying the upper minors. Like Witt, Moose was the #2 overall pick, and like Witt he did not hit a home run in his first professional season. But once he got to Double-A, he began mashing, smacking 21 home runs in 66 games for Northwest Arkansas with a line of .347/.413/.687. A promotion to Omaha did not slow him down, as he clobbered 15 more home runs in just 52 games. The Royals would start him out in Omaha for 55 games before finally calling him up mid-season in 2011, and he would enjoy eight seasons with the Royals as an All-Star third baseman.

Kila Ka’aihue, 2008, Northwest Arkansas (Double-A)/Omaha (Triple-A) - 37

Kila was also a bit underwhelming after the Royals made him a 15th round pick out of high school in Hawaii in 2002. But he also became a sensation among fans for drawing 97 walks in 2005 at a time in which the book Moneyball had just come out, and few other Royals players were drawing walks. Kila wouldn’t really add power to his profile until 2008, when he hit 26 home runs in his first 91 games with the Naturals. That earned the 24-year old a promotion to Omaha, where he hit 11 home runs in 33 games. He even got a cup of coffee with the Royals, hitting his first MLB home run that year, giving him 38 home runs total. He would toil in Omaha the next two seasons before finally getting an extended look with the Royals in 2010. He hit just .217/.307/.394 in 52 games, and served as a placeholder with the Royals the next season for one month before Eric Hosmer was called up.

Wil Myers, 2012, Northwest Arkansas (Double-A)/Omaha (Triple-A) - 37

Before the days of draft bonus pools, teams could offer whatever they wanted to amateur players. The Royals finally wised up and started throwing money into the draft under Dayton Moore, and in 2008 they spent $2 million to lure third-round pick Wil Myers from his commitment to South Carolina.

Myers dominated his first two seasons in the minors, but he was underwhelming in his first season at Double-A. He would put any doubts to rest by hitting .343 with 13 home runs in 35 games for Northwest Arkansas before being promoted to Omaha and hitting 24 dingers in 99 games. He was the centerpiece for a huge trade for pitcher James Shields, and a year later, he was Rookie of the Year for the Rays.

MJ Melendez, 2021, Northwest Arkansas (Double-A)/Omaha (Triple-A) - 37

Melendez is having one of the biggest professional turnarounds in Royals history. The former second-round pick endured a miserable 2019 season in Wilmington, hitting .163/.260/.311 and striking out 39 percent of the time. He spent the canceled minor league season working with the Royals' new hitting development staff and the results were phenomenal. He smacked 28 home runs in 79 games for the Naturals before his promotion to Triple-A. He currently leads all minor leaguers in home runs, and the only question is what position will he play once he reaches the big leagues?

Craig Brazell, 2007, Wichita (Double-A)/Omaha (Triple-A) - 39

Brazell was a Mets farmhand for many years, with a pitstop in the Dodgers organization when the Royals signed him as a 27-year old free agent. He was a Triple-A player who had never hit more than 24 home runs in a season, but they stuck him in Double-A to start the year, and he terrorized Texas League pitchers with seven home runs in 30 games and a line of .349/.408/.587 before they promoted him to Omaha. He smacked seven home runs in his first 20 games with Omaha, and would eventually finish tied for second in the Pacific Coast League with 32 home runs, despite playing in just 105 games.

“I don’t have an explanation,” he said. “I didn’t change my swing or anything. Maybe it was just a matter of getting older and understanding things better.”

The Royals gave him a few weeks in “The Show”, giving him five at-bats, but he was off to Japan where he would spend the next five seasons.

Brandon Berger, 2001, Wichita (Double-A) - 40

The Royals selected Berger in the 14th round of the 1996 draft out of Eastern Kentucky. He showed good power in the minors, and was not a plodder, stealing 29 bases while hitting 16 home runs for Wilmington in 1999. He spent three seasons with the Blue Rocks before finally arriving in Wichita for a full season in 2001. He wasn’t even expected to start, but he ended up mashing 40 home runs for the Wranglers, who finished in first place and led the league in home runs.

“A late bloomer,” said Bob Hegman, Royals senior director of minor-league operations. “He’s a guy we started out at Wichita this year as the fourth outfielder. An injury to another guy put Brandon in the lineup, and he’s been unbelievable ever since....We’ve got people wondering if he’s for real. He’s for real, I can tell you that.”

-Bob Hegman, Royals senior director of minor-league operations

Berger would get a cup of coffee and hit two more home runs with the Royals, giving him 42 home runs on the year. He would get into 81 Major League games over parts of four seasons, but he hit just eight home runs with a line of .212/.268/.378. By age 31, he had retired.

Chris Hatcher 1998, Omaha (Triple-A) - 46

Hatcher was a cornfed Iowa kid from Council Bluffs who stood 6’4’’, 240 pounds and was a two-time All-American for the Hawkeyes. The Astros selected him in the third round of the 1990 draft as an outfielder, and he played well for them, smacking 31 home runs in 1996, but he never got a callup. He signed with the Royals as a minor league free agent and played poorly for them in 1997, hitting just .230 with 11 home runs in 68 games for Omaha. The Royals offered him $25,000 to come back, and after wrestling with the idea of continuing on in baseball despite never getting a crack at the big leagues, Hatcher decided to come back.

He struck out a lot early on - he would eventually whiff 125 times in 126 games, back in the days when striking out was an embarrassing thing to do. But he was also mashing. As most of the country was watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa engage in a thrilling chase to set the home run record, Hatcher was putting on his own show in the Pacific Coast League. He ended up with 46 home runs, the most in club history for any minor leaguer, and the most any minor leaguer in baseball had hit since 1982.

The Royals called him up in September and Chris Hatcher made his Major League debut at the age of 29, much to the relief of his wife Lisa.

As she was climbing the ramps of the ballpark, she heard the announcer say: “And in left field for the Royals, Number 51, ChrisHatcher.” It wasn’t the last time she cried that evening. “If you could only know what that moment represented to both of us,” she says. “February was terrible. He was so sure it was over. I remember how he used to just sit in the bathtub, reading his hunting and fishing magazines. . . . And I would say, How can you say it’s the end?’ “ She hesitates. “And yet I want you to know: It’s because he didn’t give up. He did this.”

He would later get his first - and only - Major League hit off Mariners pitcher Jeff Fassero. It was a weak grounder to short, ironic for such a large man known for his power. After eight games in “The Show”, it was back in the minors, the next season with the Rockies. Then the Angels. And the Cubs. Then the Rays came calling. He hit 31 home runs in 2000, but never again got the call up to the bigs. He retired in 2002, but came out of retirement to help fill out the Omaha roster for 12 games in 2002. He gave it one more go in Korea the next year before finally hanging them up for good.

But for one season, Hatcher put it all together for the most destructive power season in Royals minor league history. For that, and for grinding out a career in baseball for over a decade, we salute you, Chris Hatcher.

Others in the 30-home run club:

Frank Ortenzio, 1971, San Jose (High-A) - 32

Sal Fasano, 1994, Rockford (Low-A)/Wilmington (High-A) - 32

Kit Pellow, 1998, Wichita (Double-A)/Omaha (Triple-A) - 31

Cory Aldridge, 2005, Wichita (Double-A)/Omaha (Triple-A) - 30

Billy Butler, 2005, High Desert (High-A)/Wichita (Double-A) - 30

Aaron Guiel, 2005, Omaha (Triple-A) - 30

Adam Keim, 2005, High Desert (High-A)/Wichita (Double-A) - 30

Matt Fields, 2013, Northwest Arkansas (Double-A) - 31

Carlos Peguero, 2014, Omaha (Triple-A) - 30

Seuly Matias, 2018, Lexington (Low-A) - 30

Bobby Witt, Jr., 2021, Northwest Arkansas (Double-A)/Omaha (Triple-A) - 31

Ryan McBroom, 2021, Omaha (Triple-A) - 30