Outfielder-catcher MJ Melendez shouldn't return to the KC Royals next year
There was a time, most notably at the end of the 2021 season, when many believed MJ Melendez was the rightful heir apparent to Salvador Perez behind the Royal plate. He'd destroyed minor league pitching in 2021 by hammering 41 homers, driving in 103 runs, and slashing .288/.386/.625 in an astonishing campaign split between Kansas City's Double-A and Triple-A farm clubs. His defense needed work, but his bat had fans hoping he'd join the Royals in 2022.
And he did. The club called him up May 2 and he's been with KC ever since. The results, however, haven't matched the hype.
Sure, Melendez clubbed 18 homers and knocked in 62 runs in 129 games last year, but he also hit just .217. And with less than a third of this season left, he's homered only nine times, driven in only 37 runs, and is batting just .214 with a .293 OBP. He's slashing a disturbing .216/.304/.376 over 234 big league games.
What's more, Freddy Fermin's exciting emergence and his own shortcomings have probably extinguished Melendez's chances to eventually replace Perez behind the plate. As many expected him to before the season started, Melendez now plies his trade in the outfield, where being force-fed the corners since this season and last probably accounts for at least part of his defensive woes in those spots. His seven outfield errors this season help explain why he's far below league average in left and right.
All that should leave Melendez on the outside looking in when the Royals open their 2024 season. Fermin is now Perez's backup and will reap the bulk of the catching time if Perez moves to first base, and Kansas City needs defensively reliable, slick-hitting corner outfielders. And Melendez might reap some value in an offseason trade.