Every person who calls themselves a fan of the Royals ought to be at least somewhat familiar by now with the name “MJ Melendez”. And if you’re not, get familiar with it. Very, very familiar.
I was in the middle of coaching an American Legion baseball game in Warrensburg, MO, the night that the Royals drafted MJ Melendez. Almost unanimously recognized as the best defensive high school catcher in the draft, Melendez is a phenomenal athlete who flashes Gold Glove ability behind the plate.
With their first pick in 2017, the Royals selected arguably the best high school hitter in the entire draft. With their second pick, they drafted arguably the best high school defender in the entire draft. After they drafted Evan Steele with their third pick, I was thrilled with their first day of the draft.
But even as good as Pratto and Steele were and will be, it was the Melendez pick that had me drooling at the mouth. So excited, in fact, that I wrote this article detailing how Melendez is the heir apparent to Salvador Perez.
When I was submitting my votes for the Royals Top 100 Prospects earlier this month, I had to contain myself when ranking Melendez. I wanted so badly to put him in my top 3. I truly believe that he has the ability to be a top 3 prospect in this organization. I refrained, and dropped him to a more realistic position for a guy who has only played one professional season.
The point is though that the kid has arguably the highest ceiling of any player in the Royals farm system. Khalil Lee and Nick Pratto definitely have more offensive potential, but they don’t play a defensive position that’s even close to as valuable as Melendez. I am of the belief that the catcher plays the most important position on the field. They run the game. They can see everything. They are involved with every single pitch that is thrown throughout the course of the game, and Melendez excels at this position.
One of the biggest reasons that Salvador Perez has won 4 consecutive Gold Glove awards is his ability to control the running game. Melendez is certainly capable in this aspect of the game, with multiple reports that he’s registered sub-1.90 pop times.
His 26.4% caught stealing percentage (CS%) in the Arizona League is an impressive feat in a league where runners can usually run freely.
Check this out:
Melendez also only allowed 3 past balls in 30 games, which looks even better when you compare it to the 7 that Salvador Perez allowed in 30 games in the AZL in 2007. We all know how good Salvy can be at blocking balls now, so this bodes really well for Melendez, especially when you consider that he’d never caught any of his teammates before.
MJ Melendez is an incredible athlete. Some people may not think of catchers as being good athletes, but these guys have a lot on their plate. They have to be able to move laterally very quickly from a squat. They must be able to see a double steal as it’s happening and decide which base to throw the ball to in less than a second. MJ Melendez’ athleticism is an underrated aspect of the kid that gives him a very high floor as a catching prospect.
What we’ve talked about already ought to have you really excited for Melendez, and we haven’t even gotten to the kid’s bat yet.
Melendez probably won’t ever be a Gary Sanchez caliber hitter, but he has a chance to be very good with a bat in his hands. Some catchers make their living behind the plate and some make their money hitting the ball over the fence. MJ Melendez has a chance to do both, very well.
In his first professional season, Melendez slashed .262/.374/.417/.790 with 8 doubles, 3 triples, and 4 HRs. He exceeded my expectations as a hitter by a fairly significant amount. Salvador Perez slashed .244/.320/.279(!!!)/.599 with 0 HRs as a 17-year old in the AZL (Melendez is 18). In fact, it took Perez over three years to finally hit his 4th professional HR.
Melendez also struck out a lot this season. His 30.3% strike out rate is concerning, to be certain, but it’s also somewhat expected from a kid who’s catching in his first professional season.
Melendez is very much a pull hitter. He pulled the ball 50.9% of the time in 2017 and got the ball in the air an impressive 52.9% of the time. As a left-handed hitter, this could play into some HR power potential if Melendez can learn to keep hitting the ball in the air. His 12.1% HR/FB ratio (compare that to Mike Moustakas’ 17.8% ratio) would suggest that he’s got the ability to hit HRs, should he continue to progress.
Here’s a look at Melendez homering in a high school game back in 2016:
That’s a really quick bat. Not much action on the front leg. Really pretty swing for a then-17-year old.
Put Melendez’ impressive offensive potential with what we already know he can do defensively, and the Royals have got the makings of a superstar catching prospect on their hands. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Melendez in the MLB Top 100 by the end of 2018.