Happy New Year and welcome back! We have now been writing about the Royals farm system for 18 months and it’s only going to get better from here. We started off our original prospect rankings with 30, expanded to 100, and now we’re coming back to earth a bit. Are there 100 worthy names in the Kansas City Royals system? Absolutely. Are there always 100 names worthy of being on the list…well…
So here we go. The Kansas City Royals top 75 prospects as brought to you by six members of your Royals Farm Report staff. Joel, Drake, Drew, Josh, Pat, and I voted on our top 75 Royals prospects and then ran a collective ranking. We will release five prospects a day, starting with 75, working our way down to #5 where our top 5 prospects will all get their own article. So, without further ado, here we go!
1. MJ Melendez, C
DOB: 11/29/1998 (20 YO)
Ht/Wt: 6’1″ 185′
Levels Played, 2018: A
Acquired: 2017 MLB Draft
2018 Stats: 472 PA, .251/.322/.492/.814, 19 HR, 26 2B, 9 3B, 9.1% BB%, 30.3% K%, .241 ISO, 128 wRC+
Projected level to begin 2019: A+
Much has changed since I tweeted this out in November of 2017, yet much is still the same. Of the top five list that I gave “thelaundry”, all five of them are still the Royals top five position prospects, and Gigliotti has actually moved up in our rankings. It would’ve been impossible to know who the Royals would’ve drafted in 2018, as three of them fill out the rest of our current top nine (leaving just Yefri Del Rosario at #10, what a welcoming presence he’s been to the system).
MJ Melendez at #1 has proven to stay true. After an impressive rookie debut in the Arizona League in 2017 that saw him post a 121 wRC+, Melendez went ahead and upped the ante in 2018 by breaking the record for home runs by a teenage catcher in the South Atlantic League. As I sit here typing this write up, reflecting on the impressive nature of Melendez’ future so far, there’s one tweet that I keep thinking about:
This was from December of 2017. Melendez was not in fact our #1 prospect at the time, but he was my personal #1. My faith in the kid has not wavered. You could even say I was the original driver of the MJ Melendez hype train.
A bit overblown? Not really. Look at him now, haters.
I’m kidding. Anyway.
Melendez’ star power has not slowed down one iota. If you follow the site you may have seen the article I wrote about teenage power hitters in the Sally. Seuly Matias and MJ Melendez are among an elite group of hitters for both their power numbers and overall offensive production as teenagers in A-ball. What’s even more impressive is Melendez historic position as a catcher.
It’s not often that you find a hitter that can produce like Melendez, AND play gold glove caliber defense. The only catchers to produce like Melendez did offensively as teenagers in the Sally (min. 250 PA) are Chase Vallot (ugh), Chance Sisco (big leaguer), Gary Sanchez (career 124 wRC+), Austin Romine (big leaguer), and Jesus Montero (former top prospect). It is almost unprecedented just how dynamic Melendez was at the plate in 2018.
I often see people comparing Melendez to Salvador Perez in some ways, and I just want to make sure we differentiate this now. Here are some ways that Melendez and Salvy are similar as prospects:
- Both elite defensive prospects
- Both high character guys
- Both have the leadership skills you want from your catcher
That’s about it. Offensively, teenage Melendez and teenage Perez are almost nothing alike:
- Salvy doesn’t walk, like, at all
- Melendez has a career 10.28% BB%
- Salvy doesn’t strike out too much for a power hitting catcher
- Melendez has struck out in over 30% of his career PA
- Salvy didn’t start hitting for real power until he reached the big leagues
- Melendez broke the record for HR by teenage catchers in the Sally
So, their makeup is similar, sure, but they are almost polar opposites in terms of their approach at the plate. I’ll tell you who Melendez reminds me more of than Salvy: Yasmani Grandal. Here are Grandal’s offensive numbers over the last three seasons (1,457 PA):
.239/.332/.467/.799, 73 HR (~24/season), 64 2B (~21/season), 12.1% BB%, 25.4% K%, .228 ISO, 116 wRC+
Yasmani Grandal plays good-not-great defense behind home plate. He frames pitches really well, he doesn’t control the running game as well as you’d like, but he’s a solid defender. He’s posted 9 fWAR over the last three seasons with that average 116 wRC+ and good-not-great defense. Suppose Melendez posts something in the neighborhood of that 115 wRC+, runs the bases well, and plays the great to borderline elite defense we know he’s capable of and you’re looking at something more along the lines of Buster Posey’s 3.3 or JT Realmuto’s 4 fWAR seasons.
Let’s make it very clear that MJ Melendez is no sure thing. Very few prospects are. If the strikeout rate never falls under that 30% mark he may be more of a career platoon or backup catcher. But we have MJ Melendez at #1 for a reason. I told someone the other day that the reason he’s #1 on our list is because we believe that MJ Melendez has the best combination of two things in the Royals system:
- Likelihood of reaching said ceiling
Of course Seuly Matias has the higher overall ceiling, but it’s much more likely that Melendez reaches his ceiling than Matias. Brady Singer and Nicky Lopez have a higher chance of reaching their ceiling than Melendez, but their ceilings aren’t as high, in our opinion.
We love catcher defense here at the site. If you dive into the formula that FanGraphs uses for their WAR calculation, you’ll see that’s it not a perfect system. I am of the opinion that catcher defense is slighted significantly by the public analytic community. Melendez’ ability to play defense at an elite level and hit the way he does is something you don’t see very often.
I expect we’ll see Melendez in Kansas City sometime after the trade deadline in 2021. Salvy’s contract is currently set to end after the 2021 season, and that could be a huge transition year for the Royals. In any case, Melendez is gonna be a ton of fun to watch in Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas in 2019, and Royals fans should be ecstatic that this kid fell to the 2nd round in 2017.
Photo Credits: Doc Riddle (@TheGrandOldGame)