MJ Melendez is lucky. He has power, an increasingly valued commodity even for the KC Royals, who've traditionally relied far more on small ball, good pitching, and strong defense.
Because his catching skills need work and his outfield defense is still awkward, it's Melendez's power, proven by the 18 home runs he hit as a Royal rookie last year and the minor league-leading 41 he smashed the season before, that more than anything explains why he'll be somewhere in the starting lineup when Kansas City opens the season at home Thursday against the Twins.
Just where he'll play remains to be seen, but count on one of the outfield corners because no one but Salvador Perez will be behind the plate to catch Opening Day starter Zack Greinke. And one of the corners is primarily where former manager Mike Matheny deployed Melendez last year when he wasn't catching.
Despite his power, though, and like his defense no matter where he plays, Melendez's bat requires improvement—he hit only .217 last season. But he had better luck this spring, hitting .281 with three homers, three doubles, a triple and nine RBIs in 11 games when he wasn't playing for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
Will he be better at the plate this season?
How FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference see MJ Melendez's KC Royals season
FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) predicts Melendez will homer 23 times, drive in 72 runs, and hit .240. Baseball-Reference, however, isn't as optimistic, projecting 15 home runs, 54 RBIs and a .230 average.
How will MJ Melendez actually perform for the KC Royals this year?
New manager Matt Quatraro won't handle Melendez any differently than Matheny did: he'll be an outfielder, but when Perez needs a true day off or the skipper pencils his name in at DH, Melendez will catch.
And he'll hit better. Homers will come more frequently, probably in the 22-25 range, he'll knock in around 80 runs, and his average will rise to the .250s, possibly even .260. His defense will improve at least slightly.
All in all, 2023 will be a decent year for MJ Melendez.