Welcome back to our 2024 KC Royals player projection series. Over the next few weeks, we'll be reviewing how various Royals performed last year and predicting how they might fare this season. Up today is outfielder MJ Melendez.
There was a time not that long ago when many considered MJ Melendez the heir apparent to KC Royals catcher Salvador Perez. Theirs was a fairly logical assumption, especially when considered within the compelling context of what Melendez accomplished in 2021.
That was the season he captured the attention of Royals followers who before then hadn't paid him much mind. His 41 homers led the minor leagues, he drove in 103 runs, and he slashed .288/.386/.625 across stops at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha. He made it to Kansas City early the following season and has been a Royal ever since.
Melendez is, however, no longer in line to succeed Perez, nor is he really a catcher. The former distinction is perhaps held by Freddy Fermin, Perez's backup from whom fans should expect a good 2024, or more likely by Blake Mitchell or Carter Jensen, backstops who MLB Pipeline ranks respectively as the organization's best and seventh-best prospects.
So out of KC's catching picture is Melendez, in fact, that he appeared behind the plate only 10 times last season; Logan Porter, who wasn't called up from the minors until Sept. 11, caught one more game than that. Now, Melendez works almost exclusively in the outfield where, as his .970 fielding percentage proves, learning the corners is still a work very much in progress.
So is his hitting. Although he homered 18 times as a rookie and 16 times last year, his .227/.314/.398 two-season line is well below expectations. On the positive side, he slashed .273/.352/.485 and clubbed 10 homers after last season's All-Star Break.
What should Royals fans anticipate from him in 2024?
How FanGraphs projects MJ Melendez's 2024 season
FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) predicts Melendez will improve his home run total to 23, drive in 69 runs, slash .245/.329/.445, and post a 108 wRC+ in 134 games.
How will MJ Melendez actually perform for the Royals this year?
Although he's been the subject of trade rumors throughout the offseason, Melendez probably isn't going anywhere — the Royals' commitment to him is obvious, and they clearly intend to continue developing him as an outfielder. With right field presumably the primary province of newcomer Hunter Renfroe, most of Melendez's work will come in left field.
His defense should improve, but probably incrementally. His batting line needs to at least measure up to FanGraphs' projection; exceeding it would be better. Look for 20-25 homers from Melendez, and 65-75 RBI.