Whit Merrifield keeps banging out the hits, and the honors keep coming.
The former South Carolina outfielder was named the George Brett Minor League Player of the Year Thursday by the Kansas City Royals organization.
Merrifield, 26, split last season between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha, where he hit a combined .319 with 41 doubles, four triples, eight home runs, 49 RBIs, 16 stolen bases and 79 runs scored. Those 41 doubles were tied for sixth-most among all minor league players last season.
"It's an exciting time in my career," Merrifield told The State. "I had a really good year and finally put a full year together. I'm looking to taking that momentum into next year and trying to make a push to the big leagues."
The right-handed-hitting Merrifield earned Texas League All-Star honors before his June promotion to Omaha, where he hit .340 over the final three months of the regular season. He earned Omaha's Player of the Year Award and helped the Storm Chasers win the Triple-A championship. Merrifield hit safely in all 10 of Omaha's postseason games, batting .386 with two doubles, three homers and six RBIs.
He got a kick out of watching the major league team charge through the MLB playoffs all the way to the World Series in October before losing to the San Francisco Giants. His goal is to make it to Kansas City in the upcoming season.
"It was exciting, especially knowing a lot of the guys now that I've gotten to the higher levels," Merrifield said. "I've gotten a chance to play with a lot of those guys who are in the big leagues competing for a World Series. It's really cool to see, and I hope that I can join them soon."
Merrifield, who was selected by the Royals in the ninth round of the 2010 MLB draft, is famed for delivering the championship-winning hit in extra innings for the Gamecocks in their national title victory against UCLA at the College World Series that same year. He left USC after his junior season and still ranks fifth in career runs scored (197) and sixth in at-bats (800) and hits (263).