Royals announce organizational award winners for 2019 season

Khalil Lee was the 2019 winner of the George Brett Award, which recognizes the top position player in the Royals organization.
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With the Kansas City Royals fully embracing a youth movement over the past couple seasons, the organization’s minor leaguers figure to play a major role in the big league club’s future success. The Royals honored many of those minor leaguers — plus two employees, a coach and a scout — in a Wednesday Zoom ring ceremony that highlighted the organization’s best and brightest during the 2019 season.

Outfielder Khalil Lee won the George Brett Award, which recognizes the top position player in the organization. Lee was named Northwest Arkansas Player of the Year last season after batting .264 with a .363 on-base percentage in a career-high 129 games. He had a career-high 53 stolen bases, which ranked third in all of minor league baseball, and had on-base streaks of 23 games (May 20-June 15) and 17 games (July 11-30). In his first full season at Double-A, Lee was named a Texas League midseason All-Star and earned Northwest Arkansas Player of the Month honors in July.

Lefty Kris Bubic was the recipient of the Paul Splittorff Award, which recognizes the top pitcher in the organization. Bubic was named Wilmington Pitcher of the Year last season after going 11-5 and leading Royals farmhands with a 2.23 ERA and a .199 opponents’ average in 26 starts across two levels. His 185 strikeouts led all of minor league baseball. Nine of his 26 starts were scoreless, including his one-hit shutout on August 15 vs. Lynchburg, in which he struck out 11 batters for the second straight start. His last 17 starts came with the Blue Rocks, for whom he earned Carolina League postseason All-Star honors. Bubic was also selected to the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. He started two of Wilmington’s 10 playoff games and posted a 1.23 ERA with 19 strikeouts, leading the Blue Rocks to their first Carolina League championship since 1999. Bubic was a first-round pick in the 2018 draft.

Catcher MJ Melendez won the Frank White Award, which recognizes the top defensive player in the organization. Melendez earned his second organizational award in as many seasons after being named recipient of the Mike Sweeney Award for the 2018 campaign. Melendez earned Carolina League All-Star honors last season and led all catchers with a .991 fielding percentage. He also threw out 36 of 60 attempted base stealers in 71 games behind the plate.

Nick Heath, the top baserunner in the organization, won the Willie Wilson Baserunner of the Year Award. Heath earned this honor for the second straight season in 2019 after leading the minors with a career-high 60 stolen bases, the highest single-season total by a Royals minor leaguer since Terrance Gore had 68 steals in 2013.

Left-hander Foster Griffin was the recipient of the Mike Sweeney Award, which recognizes a player who best represents the organization on and off the field. Griffin was named the left-handed starting pitcher for the Pacific Coast League end-of-season All-Star team in 2019. He was a first-round pick in the 2014 draft.

Catcher Freddy Fermin won the Carlos Fortuna Award, which recognizes a player who is dedicated to improving his English, work ethic and conduct. Fermin split the 2019 season between Lexington and Northwest Arkansas. He played in a career-high 86 games and hit a career-best 12 home runs, nine of which came in Lexington. Fermin was named a South Atlantic League midseason All-Star prior to his promotion to Double-A and threw out 26 of 55 would-be base stealers across his two stops, including 17 of 25 with Lexington. Fermin also appeared in four games with the Surprise Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League.

Lexington Legends manager Brooks Conrad was the recipient of the Dick Howser Award, which recognizes a player development employee for outstanding contributions to the organization. In his first season as manager at Lexington, Conrad led the Legends to their second straight South Atlantic League title, making Lexington the first Royals affiliate to win back-to-back league championships since Omaha won consecutive Pacific Coast League titles from 2013-14. Conrad made his managerial debut in the Royals’ organization with Burlington in 2018, following a six-year Major League career with Oakland (2008), Atlanta (2009-11), Milwaukee (2012), Tampa Bay (2012) and San Diego (2014).

Todd Jansen and Danny Helmer were the co-recipients of the Matt Minker Award, which recognizes an outstanding minor league affiliate employee. Jansen started with the Omaha Royals in 2003, making this his 18th season working in professional baseball. Since 2009, he has spent the Spring and Fall seasons working at the Surprise complex for the Royals. Helmer has spent 22 seasons working in professional baseball. He started working with the Royals in 1999 as a 14-year-old bat boy for the Wichita Wingnuts. This is his 13th season with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.

Tim Conroy won the Art Stewart Award, which recognizes the organization’s most outstanding scout. Conroy joined the Royals organization in 2011 after serving in various roles with the Braves from 2004-11 and Cardinals from 1994-2000. A former first-round selection of the Oakland Athletics, Conroy spent parts of seven seasons in the Major Leagues.

All players and baseball operations staffers were included in the ceremony. The Royals’ four 2019 championship affiliates — the Wilmington Blue Rocks, Lexington Legends, Idaho Falls Chukars and Dominican Summer League Royals — were also honored.