The Royals are about to have the 2021 Major League co-leader in home runs and the 2021 Minor League leader in home runs on the same team. And they both play the same position.
Kansas City is calling up No. 49 overall prospect MJ Melendez to the Majors on Monday, manager Mike Matheny told reporters Sunday. The news comes after catcher Cam Gallagher moved to the 10-day injured list with a Grade 2 hamstring strain.
Melendez enters the week with just a .167/.286/.295 line and two homers over 21 games to start the season with Triple-A Omaha, but a career-low .204 BABIP drags down the whole statistical set. His 14.3 percent walk rate and 24.2 percent K rate are both within his norms since Minor League play returned in 2021.
The left-handed slugger’s calling card remains his power. He’s only one year removed from hitting 41 homers at Triple-A and Double-A, five more than anyone else in the Minor Leagues last season. Even with the slow start, his 43 total homers from the start of the 2021 campaign remain the most in the Minors, just ahead of teammate Nick Pratto’s 41.
It wasn’t always this way. The 2017 second-rounder’s career looked like it had hit a wall when he produced a .163/.260/.311 line with nine homers and a 39.4 percent K rate over 110 games at High-A Wilmington in 2019. The Royals worked with Melendez on toning down his leg kick at the plate, and with less severe movement, he was also able to improve his pitch selection. By swinging at more sluggable pitches, the Florida native did a much better job of tapping into his plus raw pop, and it was power that played to all fields.
One thing that’s remained throughout Melendez’s Minor League career has been his reputation as a gifted defensive catcher. The Royals have loved Melendez’s athleticism behind the plate since selecting him five years ago, and he also possesses a plus arm that’s helped him throw out 38.8 percent of attempted basestealers in his Minor League career.
An all-around offensive and defensive catcher capable of winning Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves. Sound familiar?
Melendez isn’t a carbon copy of Salvador Perez. He’s two inches shorter, bats from the opposite side of the plate and is American (compared to Venezuelan), for starters. But the adjectives used to describe the two aren’t entirely dissimilar. So when Perez signed a four-year, $82 million extension with the Royals in March 2021 and Melendez followed with his breakout season at the upper levels, it became a legit question how Kansas City would handle the pair in the short and long terms.
The Royals have tried to take advantage of Melendez’s athleticism and arm strength by moving him around the diamond in recent months. The 23-year-old played nine games at third base for Omaha at the tail end of 2021 and has made a pair of starts in right field early this season. Gallagher’s injury likely means he’ll stick behind the plate as Perez’s backup to begin his Major League tenure. A strong offensive start in that role could keep Melendez around as a utility option if the Royals believe the power will keep playing in The Show.
“MJ, you could probably put at third base, outfield, first base,” Royals vice president of player personnel Lonnie Goldberg said this spring. “He can do a lot of things because he’s very athletic and he’s a hell of a catcher. We have a Hall of Fame catcher by the plate as well right now. So there are some good problems to have.”