Despite what the naysayers suggested over the winter months, two-way standouts Shohei Ohtani and Brendan McKay have posted impressive performances thus far this season. Yet, as amazed as some observers may be, Class A Lexington's Nick Pratto has a greater appreciation for their feats.
"What they're doing is extremely special," the Royals' second-ranked prospect said. "I don't know how long they'll be able to do it, but it's impressive to see them accomplish so much at this level."
Much like Ohtani and McKay, Pratto excelled on the mound and at the plate throughout his amateur career. While he attracted considerable interest from scouts as a lefty hurler, his sweet swing from the left side of the plate convinced the Royals to use the 14th overall pick in the 2017 Draft on the Southern California high schooler.
"We saw him a lot and our scout, Rich Amaral, has known Nick for more than 10 years," said Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg. "We knew him as a person and as a player, which included a plus glove at first base, a plus bat and the potential to have plus power as his body develops and matures."
Rarely are high school first basemen drafted in the first round. Dominic Smith, who was taken 11th overall by the Mets in 2013, was the most recent example. The Royals believe Pratto not only can be a middle-of-the-order bat at the Major League level but also an elite defender that Amaral has compared to former Gold Glover J.T. Snow.
As far as being a two-way player is concerned, Pratto admits he never envisioned that scenario as a professional, although he would have continued the dual role had he attended the University of Southern California.
"I enjoyed doing both, but I love playing every day, so hitting and playing first was definitely more enjoyable," Pratto said. "I also loved going out on the mound and competing for my team. But hitting is what I always envisioned doing once I signed to play pro ball."
Pratto has lived up to expectations early in his career. After signing with the Royals last June, he proceeded to produce a slash line of .247/.330/.414 in the Rookie-level Arizona League last summer. His performance during the instructional league convinced Kansas City to promote him to Lexington, where he was hitting .269/.316/.431 in his first 160 at-bats. He also clubbed six homers and eight doubles while driving in 23 runs and has been successful on his first six stolen base attempts this season.
Video: Nick Pratto homers
Pratto hitting the ground running in the professional ranks is not a surprise given his performances on big stages. He stroked the game-winning hit in the 2011 Little League World Series to lead his California team to the championship over Japan. He also spent two years on the Team USA 18-and-under squad and was part of clubs that won world titles in 2015 and 2016.
"It definitely helped me, particularly in learning how to work on a schedule and finding a routine and getting ready to play," said the 19-year-old. "Probably the biggest thing was playing against good competition day in and day out, which is similar to what we see here."
Pratto understands the road to the big leagues will have its peaks and valleys. Along the way he sees himself using his plus bat speed to continue honing his advanced ability to drive the ball to all fields. Otherwise, his goals are centered on discovering the nuances associated with playing on a daily basis against some of the best talent the world has to offer.
"I think getting my feet wet and just progressing are the big things right now," Pratto said. "I feel like I've learned so much in such a short period of time, and I just want to keep making the adjustments and doing what I can to help this organization win games."
Walk this way: Columbia is the only team in the Minors to have three players top their respective circuit in walks. Through May 23, Blake Tiberi, Matt Winaker and Jeremy Vasquez were tied for the South Atlantic League lead with 29 bases on balls apiece.
Mitchell mashing: West Virginia outfielder Calvin Mitchell went 2-for-3 on May 23 for his team-best 13th multi-hit game of the season. The Pirates' No. 15 prospect has hit safely in 11 of his past 13 games and 14 of his 19 May contests. He is hitting .264 in May after batting .364 in April.
Crawdad killer: Delmarva's Zac Lowther continued his dominance in a 7-0 victory against Hickory on May 23. Lowther allowed only an infield single to Tyler Ratliff, walked three and struck out 10 over six innings to improve to 3-1 on the season. In three starts this year versus the Crawdads, Lowther has fanned 31 batters over 18 frames.