The Kansas City Royals, the parent affiliate of the Wilmington Blue Rocks, unveiled the recipients of their annual minor league awards at the team's Spring Training complex in Surprise, Arizona on Wednesday. Outfielder Nick Heath, who spent the majority of last season with Wilmington and newly named Blue Rocks skipper Scott Thorman were recognized for their efforts during the 2018 campaign. Former Blue Rocks Nicky Lopez and Richard Lovelady were also recipients of awards.
Heath earned the distinction as the Willie Wilson Baserunner of the Year, which recognizes the top baserunner in the organization. The speedy outfielder showcased his ability to swipe bases at both Wilmington and in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, racking up a career-best 39 stolen bases in 90 games in 2018. He didn't slow down in the prestigious Arizona Fall League, where he led the circuit with 13 stolen bases, 21 runs scored while hitting .338 with a .427 on-base percentage. Last season, in 114 total games as a Blue Rock, the 16th round pick in 2016 stole 50 bases during his tenure as a member of the Blue Crew.
Thorman who was announced as the Blue Rocks manager for 2019, earned the Dick Howser Award which recognizes the organization's most outstanding player development person. In his second season as the skipper of the Low-A Lexington Legends, he led the team to a South Atlantic League championship and finished with a 76-60 overall record, which was the second-best mark in the league. He enters his fifth season as a manager within the organization after starting in 2015 with the Burlington Royals before making his way up to Wilmington.
Lopez was named the George Brett Hitter of the Year which recognizes the top position player in the organization. It comes a year after the shortstop won the Frank White Defensive Player of the Year Award which recognizes the organization's top defensive player after his 2017 campaign with Wilmington. Last season, Lopez spent time between both Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha and hit a composite .308. In addition, he led all Royals' farmhands with 155 hits and earned a midseason Texas League All-Star selection. With Wilmington in 2017, the fifth-round pick in 2016 out of Creighton University was named a Carolina League All-Star and in 70 games hit .295 to go along with a .376 on-base percentage before a promotion to Double-A and named to the Arizona Fall League All-Prospect Team.
Lovelady was tabbed as the recipient of the Paul Splittorff Award recognizing the top minor league pitcher in the organization. The hard-throwing southpaw went 3-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 46 appearances and earned nine saves in 12 opportunities. He whiffed 71 batters and walked just 21 men while holding opponents to a .204 batting average, which was the second-lowest mark across the Pacific Coast League. With the Blue Rocks in 2017, Lovelady joined Lopez as a mid-season Carolina League All-Star and posted a sterling 1.08 ERA in 21 appearances, earned a win and went seven of eight in save opportunities.
The Blue Rocks open their season on Thursday, April 4 at home against the Salem Red Sox at 6:35 p.m. Individual tickets, season seats, mini plans and group packages for the 2019 season are on sale now at BlueRocks.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.