KANSAS CITY — The Royals’ top catching prospect and one of the top hitting prospects in baseball is expected to be called up to the Major Leagues on Monday.
Catcher MJ Melendez will be called up from Triple-A Omaha on Monday, manager Mike Matheny announced after the Royals’ 6-4 loss to the Yankees on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium, a move that was prompted when backup catcher Cam Gallagher sustained a Grade 2 hamstring strain and had to be placed on the 10-day injured list.
Melendez, the Royals’ No. 2 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 49 prospect, was pinch-hit for in the seventh inning of Omaha’s game against the Mud Hens (Detroit) and was told he needed to get on the road to be ready for the Royals’ game in St. Louis on Monday.
The 23-year-old hit 41 home runs in 2021 to win the Joe Bauman Award as the Minor League home run king and finished with a .288/.386/.625 line and a 21.7 percent strikeout rate over 123 games at Double-A and Triple-A. After struggling immensely in 2019, Melendez rebuilt his stock last year and has become one of the most complete catching prospects in the game, with power to all fields and plus defending skills.
The Royals have yet to describe Melendez’s role on the current team or when his debut will come, with All-Star catcher Salvador Perez still catching most games. On the days Perez serves as the designated hitter — typically day games after night games — Melendez will likely catch.
He’s also been getting work in right field this year and has played two games there, so that’s an option, as well as DH-ing.
The only catch to Melendez’s promotion is losing Gallagher for an undetermined amount of time. The 29-year-old pulled his hamstring running out a single in the third inning Sunday but fought to stay in as long as he could. When he bunted in the fourth and reached on an errant throw by third baseman Josh Donaldson, the Royals had to pinch-run for Gallagher, who was clearly compromised, in a tight game.
“I did not want to come out,” Gallagher said. “Being a backup catcher, you got to give [Perez] a day. He catches a lot of games during the year. I got to give him a day. I was trying to do everything I could to stay in the game, let him rest his legs. Me wanting to do that and doing what’s best for the team is different.”
Gallagher has been Perez’s main backup for parts of four years and fills the role extremely well, allowing the Royals to give Perez days off while not sacrificing the catching position. And Gallagher has been strong at the plate when he’s played this year: he hit .313 (5-for-16) in eight games.
“He’s always giving the pitcher a chance to win the game because he’s detailed, knows what he’s doing and is just great back there,” said Daniel Lynch, who allowed three runs in five innings Sunday. “It’s great for him to give Sal a rest, and he’s been swinging the bat well. So it’s really tough to see a friend go down like that. And just for the team, we really need him. It’s a big loss.”
Melendez has gotten off to a slow start in 2021, posting a .581 OPS in 21 games for the Storm Chasers with two home runs and a 24.1 percent strikeout rate.
But perhaps a fresh face could be a spark for the Royals, who have lost eight of their past 10 and are coming off a series sweep to the Yankees.
Kansas City had a lead going into the seventh inning on Sunday, but the Yankees scored two runs on no hits and no balls out of the infield when reliever Dylan Coleman walked two and hit another, loading the bases for Scott Barlow. Aaron Judge, who homered twice Sunday, hit a check-swing dribbler that scored a run, and shortstop Nicky Lopez couldn’t field a potential forceout cleanly, allowing another run to score.
The Royals finished 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position Sunday and are now batting .193 (28-for-145) for the season, including .170 (23-for-135) since April 10.
“We can talk about them being close games, we can talk about the fight, but when it comes down to wins and losses, we got to find ways to get wins,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Just got to start again tomorrow. That’s all there is to it.”