An offensively challenging season for this highly touted KC Royals catching prospect did not drop him too far in rankings from the prior year.
Ranked at No. 9 on the KC Royals’ 2019 top prospects list, MJ Melendez did see his stock fall some as he never got his bat going in 2019. A full season at Advance-A Wilmington saw a batting average of just .163 in 363 at-bats. Even though over half of his hits went for extra bases, he could only get his slugging percentage up to .311.
Melendez was still named a Mid-Season All-Star for the Carolina League which shows just how good he is defensively. He calls great games for his pitchers, is a wall behind the plate and threw out an outstanding 60 percent of runners last year.
There is plenty of time for him to develop as he just turned 21 back in November. The Royals had enough faith in him to invite him to the big league camp in spring training. He was 2-for-14 batting but those hits were a double and a home run that led to five runs batted in.
Melendez will spend two to three more years refining his swing and be ready to take over catching duties full-time for the Royals in 2022 or 2023. He already has the defensive skills to play in the bigs now but the bat will need to be at least serviceable for the franchise to commit a roster spot to him.
Ultimately, he could win multiple Gold Gloves and be a .250 hitter who blasts 20-30 home runs and keeps base stealers at bay. A long career as the guy who replaced Salvador Perez would be a responsibility he can handle.
Being a great defensive catcher is not a skill that usually fades away so even if he continues to struggle at the plate, Melendez can easily be a backup catcher in the big leagues. Spelling the main catcher for 30-40 starts and as a defensive replacement is a valuable role to teams.
Most likely outcome:
Melendez will join Kansas City as a full-time catcher by age 25. He will have at least two years to see if he can figure out big league pitchers. If it does not go according to plan with the KC Royals, many other teams will be willing to take a flyer on him strictly due to his ability to call a game and block pitches.
My interview with him last December convinced me he has the right attitude and humbleness to see a big improvement at the plate in 2020. With the Royals pouring resources into his hitting, they are big believers that he will turn it around as well.