KC Royals: Why Omaha is now more crucial for 2 hot prospects

(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Perhaps now more than any time in recent memory, the KC Royals are focused on Omaha, where their Triple-A affiliate Storm Chasers play. It’s there the organization is clearly taking steps to expedite the promotions of hot prospects and sluggers Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez to the majors.

The Royals initiated the process last month with a move appearing, at first blush, to be a step backward when they optioned first baseman Pratto and catcher Melendez to Omaha well ahead of Opening Day. Both were victims more of the big club’s roster crunch than inexperience—Salvador Perez blocks Melendez and, for better or worse, Carlos Santana blocks Pratto.

The situation is unfortunate for players and club. Despite their slow starts at Omaha—through Sunday (12 games), Pratto is batting .213 with three homers and 19 strikeouts in 47 at-bats, and in 11 games Melendez is hitting .122 with two homers—little remains for either to prove in the minors, especially considering the monster 2021 seasons both had between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Omaha. But promoting them to Kansas City now means manager Mike Matheny must find places for both to play when none seem to exist, at least not in the short term.

Melendez may be the toughest case. He’s a fine catcher and first in line to succeed Perez when the seven-time All-Star backstop finally moves to DH or first base (the former is more likely than the latter), but his proper progression requires more than just catching a game or two a week. So, KC needs to find a spot or spots he’s comfortable playing.

Pratto’s situation is easier. He’s the team’s first baseman of the future; considering Santana’s poor hitting and contract-year status, the Royals are bound to move him one way or another before long, making Pratto the obvious choice at first presuming his slump doesn’t last long. But on the off-chance Santana’s hitting improves or the club doesn’t want to eat the unpaid balance of the $10.5 million they owe him for this season, good to know is whether Pratto can play other positions adequately.

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Omaha is a testing ground for KC Royals prospects Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez.

Omaha now serves a more urgent purpose than usual—there, the Royals have the luxury of moving Pratto and Melendez around the field, in essence experimenting with them to determine the boundaries of their versatility and, in the process, to find the best fits for them on Kansas City’s complicated major league roster.

And that’s what seems to be happening. Although Melendez caught and Pratto played first base in the Storm Chasers’ victory over Louisville Sunday, Omaha manager Scott Thorman deployed Pratto in left and Melendez in right against the Bats Saturday. All in all, Pratto has that one game in left, three in right and seven at first, and he’s DH’d once; Melendez has played right field once, DH’d twice and caught eight times. And each has one error—Pratto at first and Melendez while catching.

Expect Thorman to increase the exposure of Pratto and Melendez to other spots. Seeing Pratto in right, where he has some experience, and Melendez at third (he’s played there before), in left and at first won’t be surprising.

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The Royals could use Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez, but need to find opportunities for them on the field. It appears the Storm Chasers are helping them get that done.