MJ Melendez is on pace to hit an unprecedented number of home runs

According to the data base over at FanGraphs.com, MJ Melendez is on pace to hit more home runs than any teenage catcher in the South Atlantic League since 2006.

The Lexington Legends have 14 games left on their schedule this season. MJ has currently hit 16 HR in 99 games played, which is one HR every 6.2 games. So, theoretically, if he keeps this pace up, MJ is on pace to hit 18 HR in 2018, which would be the most by a teenage catcher in the SALLY since at least 2006.

MJ has been on a tear as of late. In 20 games since July 25th, Melendez is slashing .347/.417/.625/1.042 with 5 doubles, 3 triples, 3 home runs, and a 187 wRC+. His BB% is up over 9% in that time and the BABIP gods have smiled down on Melendez to the tune of .468. He’s been one of the team’s best players all year, but you could argue he’s the best player in the organization when he’s swinging it like that.

All of this success for MJ had me thinking. How have other teenage catchers done in the SALLY? Not many teenage catchers get thrust into full-season ball their first full year as a pro. Melendez was thought to be a glove-first catcher coming out of high school, but his bat has silenced those who doubted that he’d ever hit for much power.

For this experiment, I looked for teenage catchers that posted a wRC+ within 15 points of Melendez’ current mark of 124 in the South Atlantic League. Let’s see what catchers have posted similar seasons to Melendez’ 2018 campaign:

  • Jesus Montero, 143 wRC+, 2008
  • Chance Sisco, 141, 2014
  • Chase Vallot, 140, 2016
  • Gary Sanchez, 136, 2012
  • MJ Melendez, 124, 2018
  • Gary Sanchez, 122, 2011
  • Austin Romine, 120, 2008
  • Chase Vallot, 116, 2015

As you can see, only 5 other human beings have posted similar seasons to Melendez since 2006. Sanchez and Vallot both did it twice. As you can see, there’s a bit of a drop off in production between Sanchez’ 2012 season and Melendez in 2018, but there’s a pretty big drop off after Vallot’s 2015 season as well. Let’s compare Melendez’ peripherals with the guys on the list above:

  • Montero: .166 ISO, 21.8% SwStr%, 17 HR, .45 BB/K
  • Sisco: .108 ISO, 13.7% SwStr%, 5 HR, .53 BB/K
  • Vallot: .217 ISO, 16.4% SwStr%, 13 HR, .33 BB/K
  • Sanchez: .221 ISO, 16.9% SwStr%, 13 HR, .34 BB/K
  • Melendez: .239 ISO, 18% SwStr%, 16 HR, .29 BB/K
  • Sanchez: .229 ISO, 30.1% SwStr%, 17 HR, .39 BB/K
  • Romine: .138 ISO, 20.5% SwStr%, 10 HR, .45 BB/K
  • Vallot: .208 ISO, 24.2% SwStr%, 13 HR, .39 BB/K

As you can see, along with a chance to hit more HR than any teenage catcher in the league, Melendez also leads the pack in ISO and is near the top in SwStr%.

The obvious concerns with Melendez come in the strikeout department. Melendez is still striking out in 29.4% of his PA’s, and his 8.5% BB% doesn’t quite help combat the high strike out total. Melendez’ overall slash line suffers a bit because of this, and his .316 OBP would be by far the lowest among the names listed above. Melendez runs up a very average .321 BABIP, so it’s not like he’s been incredibly unlucky, though he does still hit a few too many balls on the ground (41.3% GB%). With Melendez’ power profile, you’d like to see him start elevating a bit more and knock that GB% down into the 30’s.

The strikeouts add in a little risk with Melendez, there’s no denying that. But this 2018 season has gone absolutely incredible for Melendez, and I can’t imagine the Royals front office imagined it going any better. Melendez is throwing out 43.3% of would be base stealers, he’s improved his receiving skills behind the plate (in my opinion), and his power potential at the plate has come forward and made itself very apparent. Melendez is hitting for power at an unprecedented rate for teenagers in the SAL, much less for catchers.

I recently ranked Melendez as my #3 Royals prospect, and somehow that feels too low. If the strikeouts were down closer to something like 19%, he’d probably be one of the tippy top prospects in baseball. Unfortunately, strikeouts are something that fair to worry about and Melendez does strikeout a bit. Luckily for Royals fans, the 19-year old still has plenty of time to work on cutting down on his swing, and the power that he’s shown in 2018 is unlike anything we’ve seen before. His defensive prowess behind the plate has not waned a bit and from everything I’ve heard, Melendez is an excellent leader both on and off the field. Salvador Perez’ contract is up after the 2021 season, but Royals fans ought to feel comfortable with the future behind the dish.

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