The Royals called up top prospect MJ Melendez on Monday to replace backup catcher Cam Gallagher, who went on the IL with a Grade 2 hamstring strain that should give Melendez a pretty long chance to establish himself in the majors.
Melendez started at DH on Tuesday and at catcher on Wednesday, a pattern that we should see a lot of over the next six weeks or so.
Remember, Melendez hit a combined 41 home runs between Double- and Triple-A last season with a triple-slash of .288/.386/.625. His plate discipline made quantum leaps last year as he cut his strikeout rate from 39.4% in High-A in 2019 to 21.7% last season, while his walk rate went from 12.4% to 16.3%.
We have Melendez at No. 62 in our updated Top 500 Prospect Rankings, but that could be on the rise if he does much over the next few weeks.
To that end, Melendez went 1-for-3 with a walk in his debut, but consider that he did have a fly out that would have been a home run in nine out of 30 MLB parks. He hit a 375-foot fly out to left-center with an exit velocity of 101.7 mph and a 24-degree launch angle. On Wednesday, he hit a 324-foot fly out to straightaway left with an exit velocity of 95.5 mph and a 42-degree launch angle that would have been a homer in just Fenway Park.
You could take this as a positive in that he’s hitting deep fly balls right out of the gate that will net a fair share of homers if he keeps at it. Or you could take it as a negative that Kauffman Stadium will mute Melendez’s power as a rookie.
It’s interesting that Melendez is a left-handed hitter, yet his first two shots at homers are opposite-field flies. That’s a good sign for his hit tool if he’s going to be a spray hitter, but won’t help his power in Kauffman, which has the same dimensions to right and left.
Considering how bad the catcher position has been to start the season – even Royals superstar catcher Salvador Perez coming off a MLB-record 48 is batting below the Mendoza Line – it wouldn’t take much for Melendez to become a starter even in one-catcher leagues right now.
And in dynasty leagues, even with the slew of elite catcher prospects coming that could finally improve the desolate position, Melendez is a must-own. The problem is that big-name prospects’ trade value is peaking as they make their MLB debuts, so you may want to wait a week or two and hope he keeps coming up just short of hitting home runs.
We still see a future as an All-Star catcher capable of 30-homer seasons, high OBPs and even a handful of steals.