Examining the 3 best KC Royals leadoff options and why Dairon Blanco makes sense

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MJ Melendez is an underrated option

Blanco seemed crazy enough, so I appreciate you still being here. MJ Melendez's spot in the batting order likely resides in the lower half, but the Royals did give him some run in the leadoff spot last season. Could they do the same in 2024? If they believe in his strong second-half performance, the answer could be yes.

Melendez's glove in the outfield did him no favors, but he still broke even in fWAR thanks to his bat. Well, namely his second-half bat. He was ice-cold to start the year, posting a 68 wRC+ through 84 games. He was still drawing walks at a decent 10.1% rate, but his strikeouts rose to 29.8% and his hard-hit prowess was not turning into hits of any kind. Thankfully, he had a big second-half surge after many Royals fans tuned out of the season.

His 124 wRC+ in that span is amongst the best on the team, with his walk and strikeout rates improving. I cannot point to what changed for Melendez as the season progressed, but I wonder if the shift to the outfield held his bat back to start the season. He was already making quality contact wit the ball, but he improved those metrics, logging 10 home runs and 25 total extra-base hits in his final 64 games.

Why does all this work in the leadoff though? The top reason would be his walk rate, walking in 10.3% of his 602 plate appearances. That led all Royals with at least 200 plate appearances last season, edging out Vinnie Pasquantino's 9.6% rate. The leadoff hitter's job is to get on base, and Melendez's walks are one way to do that.

Another reason I like Melendez as a candidate is his surprising speed from home to first base. his 4.25 seconds ranked fourth on the 2023 Royals roster, trailing Witt by only .13 seconds. Royals fans are well acquainted with what speed does, and every millisecond could be the difference between an out or a runner on base for Witt and Pasquantino.

Do I believe he is the primary lead man to start the season? No, I put my faith in Garcia. But, depending on matchups or injuries, Kansas City should look at Melendez. It is better than trying the Witt leadoff experiment again, at the very least.