RFR’s 2022 Preseason Royals Prospect Rankings: #2

Welcome back. Another year is upon us which means it’s time to break out another edition of the Royals Farm Report preseason prospect rankings. As always, these rankings are a cumulation of what is now seven different lists compiled by the guys on staff here. Jared Perkins, a new member of our staff, was able to get involved this year adding a new angle to our list. A couple of things to remember about prospect lists:
– They DO NOT MATTER. This is a list from a group of bloggers that love the Royals. We watch as many games as possible, do as much digging as possible, and try like hell to get you the best list possible so you can have an idea of what the Royals have coming through the minor league system. We love what we do and we love sharing that love with you. There’s no reason to be upset about a list. I promise you JJ Piccolo and the Royals front office aren’t using this list in their evaluations. So, enjoy the list, but please don’t take it too seriously.
– This list is a combination of seven individual lists. There’s no one person responsible for the placement of the prospects on this list.
– This list won’t be perfect. There will certainly be someone we rank way too low that makes us look silly in a couple of years. We do what we can, but understand that this is more for record keeping than “player #14 is better than player #15.” Pay more attention to tiers, and groups of prospects, rather than each individual ranking.

Alright, that should cover most of our bases. Thank you all so much for getting this far. We appreciate all of you for your support over the years. This will be our fourth annual preseason prospect rankings here at Royals Farm Report. Just for funsies, here’s a quick look at the top 5 prospects on each of our previous preseason lists.

2018:
1) Nick Pratto
2) Khalil Lee
3) Seuly Matias
4) Hunter Dozier
5) MJ Melendez

2019:
1) MJ Melendez
2) Brady Singer
3) Daniel Lynch
4) Khalil Lee
5) Nicky Lopez

2020:
1) Bobby Witt Jr.
2) Jackson Kowar
3) Daniel Lynch
4) Brady Singer
5) Erick Pena

2021:
1) Bobby Witt Jr.
2) Daniel Lynch
3) Asa Lacy
4) Jackson Kowar
5) Erick Pena

A couple of those names from 2021 might look pretty similar this year, but there’s gonna be some new faces in there too. I’m excited to get this going. Thank you, again, very much for enjoying this with us. You can read about the 23 players we listed as “Honorable Mention” and players 5-50 below. Now it’s time to get into the top 5! Enjoy!

#2: MJ Melendez, C

  • Age: 23
  • B/T: L/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 1″ 190′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
  • Acquired: 2017 MLB Draft, Round 2
  • 2021 Stats (AA/AAA): .288/.386/.625/1.011, 41 HR, 66 XBH, 3 SB, 14.1% BB%, 21.7% K%, 162 wRC+

Here is a list of players, 22 or younger, with a better wRC+ than Melendez’ 162 between AA and AAA over the last 8 years, with their career big league wRC+ in parenthesis:
– Yordan Alvarez: 170 (153)
– Trent Grisham: 166 (106)
– Gavin Lux: 166 (86)
– Vladimir Guerrero Jr.: 194 (135)
– Nate Lowe: 169 (113)
– Eloy Jimenez: 168 (117)
– Franmil Reyes: 168 (119)
– Alex Bregman: 176 (140)
– David Dahl: 163 (93)
– Kyle Schwarber: 185 (118)
– Domingo Santana: 168 (110)
– Max Kepler: 167 (101)
– Kris Bryant: 192 (134)
– Mookie Betts: 168 (135)
– Dilson Herrera: 166 (88)
– Joc Pederson: 164 (114)

There are a few misses on there, but for the most part you have a laundry list of productive big league hitters, and only a few of them bring a significant defensive impact to the table the way Melendez does. Back in 2019, Franmil Reyes hit 37 HR, struck out in 28% of his PA, had just a .311 OBP, but a 111 wRC+. That same year, Kyle Schwarber hit 38 HR, struck out 25% of the time, had a .339 OBP, and a 119 wRC+. I could see some kind of similar outcome for Melendez in the big leagues. I don’t think I expect him to strike out as little as he did in 2021, but if he hits for the type of power he’s capable of and shows off Gold Glove-caliber defense behind home plate, it won’t matter. Look at Salvador Perez last year. A .316 OBP led him to a 3.4 fWAR season and they ripped him apart for his defense. Over at Baseball Reference, where they don’t weigh framing, he was worth 5.3 bWAR.

It’s probably not fair to put that kind of expectation on Melendez, but it is absolutely something that I think he is capable of. Maybe he doesn’t ever hit 48 HR to lead the league, but I think he’s absolutely capable of bopping 40 at some point in his career. He’s got legitimate 70-grade raw power and a new swing that allows him to access that power so much more often than he used to. The transformation that he made from 2019 to 2021 is nothing short of a miracle. Here’s a snippet of what I wrote in Nick Pratto’s writeup:

“It was the kind of season that people do not come back from. FanGraphs MiLB data goes back to 2006, and from what I can tell, nobody that had been that bad at High-A has gone on to be a successful big league hitter. We’ll get to MJ Melendez on Thursday, because he was somehow even worse, but these two were almost completely falling off prospect radars into the 2020 season.”

MJ Melendez struck out in nearly 40% of his PA back in 2019. After having a ton of success in Low-A in 2018 despite striking out in over 30% of his PA there, the strikeouts had become a legitimate issue that were now hindering Melendez from having hardly any success. Cutting your K% almost in half, from nearly 40% to damn near 20%, DOES NOT HAPPEN. I didn’t go back and look but I’d be willing to bet a ton of money that there aren’t three examples of a prospect having 400+ PA with a > 39% K% one year and then 400+ PA of < 22% K% the next season he played in MiLB. I know we’ve been talking about it for what feels like forever now, but I cannot stress enough how much trouble the entire system was in at the end of 2019. The work that MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, Drew Saylor, Alec Zumwalt, and others have put in to resurrect the careers of these young men is nothing short of franchise altering.

I mentioned in Asa Lacy’s writeup that I would have Melendez as a top-30 prospect in all of baseball. Baseball America has him #42, and Baseball Prospectus has him #35, so it’s not like I’m going out on some kind of limb here, but I legitimately think he’s still somehow being underrated on national lists. Maybe some of that is the memory of 2019. It’s hard to blame anyone for having a hard time getting past how bad that year was. But Melendez became the first catcher to be the MiLB HR King in a long time last year and the power is legitimate 30+ HR in the big leagues power. There’s a group of ~25 prospects I understand having ahead of him, but I wouldn’t argue with you if you wanted him in your top-15 either. The kid is going to be an impact bat in the middle of a big league lineup and he’s going to do it while catching a good amount of the time.

Needless to say, I couldn’t really be more excited about Melendez and the season he had in 2021. I cannot describe to you guys how important his resurgence is to the future of this franchise. He and Pratto both. There aren’t many systems with five players in their organization like Witt Jr., Melendez, Pratto, Loftin, and Pasquantino. I’d argue that all five of them have top-100 arguments in some capacity and I fully expect all five to make an impact in the big leagues in the next couple of seasons. We’ll have to wait to see what extent of an impact they can make, but the sky is just the beginning if everything breaks the Royals way. #InSaylorWeTrust #ZumwaltSaylor2022

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