“Hitting the homerun today was a great feeling!” Kansas City Royals catching prospect MJ Melendez said just hours after going deep off of Carson Fulmer.
It was his first homer of Spring Training after being invited to Kansas City Royals camp just two seasons after being drafted out of high school. The moment is one he will not forget, but one he has been working towards for a long time.
MJ Melendez is the son of a college baseball coach. The game has been instilled in him since he was very young. He started playing tee ball at the age of four, and that was about the same time he knew catching was his calling.
“When I was younger, probably around the same age I started playing tee ball (maybe even younger), I would go to my dads games and hear the pop of the mitt,” Melendez said. “From then on I would squat in front of the tv with a Fisher-Price glove and smack it on the floor to make the popping sound of a mitt.”
From then on it was destined to be. Melendez worked hard and improved his game to the point where he became a household name on draft prospect lists.
Even with all of the hype surrounding him, Melendez still though that becoming a second round pick of the Kansas City Royals was a very humbling experience.
“I wouldn’t say it was a surprise, more of just a blessing,” Melendez said. “I knew I had worked hard in the fall and spring to put myself in the best position possible and luckily I was fortunate to be drafted by the Royals in the second round!”
Coming out of Westminster Christian High School in Florida, Melendez was up against quite the transition when it comes to professional baseball.
The area where Melendez saw the most change was in workload. But he credits the staff and his teammates for helping him adjust. His keys to maintaining include being well rested and getting in the weight room.
For catchers, there is a whole other level to transitioning to professional baseball. The difference in talent between draft-ready pitchers and high school pitchers is a lot different. In the former group, the pitches come in faster and break more. Melendez was very fortunate to play summer ball where he did.
“Luckily enough I got to catch a lot of top high school pitching prospects in the summers so it helped make that transition a lot smoother,” Melendez said.
Melendez made his transition well. He dropped right into Kansas City Royals top prospect list after the draft, and has only been climbing since then. He is currently the third ranked prospect in the organization according to MLB Pipeline.
That is what got him to the invite to Spring Training where he gets to work with Salvador Perez in what is a beneficial pairing. Both of them take a very defensive approach to the game.
“Being a catcher, I think it is most important to be defensive minded,” Melendez said. “You not only have to play for yourself and the team, but most importantly the pitcher. If you’re sound defensively and smart when it comes to how to manage and call a game, it helps the pitchers confidence and trust!”
Being a catcher is not a responsibility that Melendez takes lightly. He makes sure to keep an open line of communication with his pitching staff, and to do everything he can to be the best leader on the field.
“My goals are to be the best leader on and off the field possible, play with a lot of passion, and to hopefully win another championship!” Melendez said. “If I worry about just being a great team player, everything else will come!”
The championship he is referring to is what he won with the Lexington Legends last year. Melendez was an integral piece in helping get there, slashing .251/.322/.492 with 19 homers during the regular season.
Winning the championship is just one of several examples of Melendez finding success on the field. Off the field he is very family oriented. He was committed to his dad’s school, Florida International University, if the draft didn’t work out.
His brother, Jayden, is following a similar path. He is also committed to FIU, and MJ showed his pride by retweeting a video of Jayden’s where he hit a homerun. It is a two way street, with Jayden’s Twitter riddled with MJ highlights.
“[I will be] posting videos about what it’s like living in the minor league lifestyle,” Melendez said. “And videos of some of my off-season work, my sneakers, shopping, and also going to do some Q & A’s.”
Melendez has all the makings of becoming the future backstop for the Kansas City Royals, but there is no part of him that is anything but humble. It is clear to see his excitement to be where he is.
In reflecting on his homerun, Melendez immediately spoke of the confidence it would give him for the rest of Spring Training. However, when it comes down to it, he understands the gravity of the opportunity he has.
“It’s extremely humbling, I’ve worked my entire life to hopefully be in the big leagues one day,” Melendez said. “To have the opportunity to learn, practice, and play alongside of current big leaguers is incredible!”
The Kansas City Royals are grooming their future catcher and he can’t get enough of it. Melendez has worked hard for every chance he has gotten, and each chance he puts his mask on, it brings back memories of the four year old with the Fisher-Price glove.