If the Kansas City Royals were worried about finding the heir to Salvador Perez, they can probably stop searching. MJ Melendez seems to be the club's future at catcher, at least early on in his MLB career. This leads to other issues for the Royals, but that isn't what this article is about.
It may be a small sample size for Melendez — 129 at-bats — but he has looked like a very professional hitter thus far. He's working a lot of counts and getting good at-bats even if they lead to outs. His slash line early on is .248/.336/.450 with an OPS of .786, which is good for a rookie. There are a few negatives that have been apparent, so let's get into those.
If you recall from my Bobby Witt Jr. breakdown, rookies tend to be able to hit fastballs well but struggle with breaking and offspeed offerings. Melendez struggles to hit that offspeed stuff the most while being average when it comes to general breaking balls.
Currently, against offspeed stuff, he has a batting average and SLG of .171 and .276, respectively, which is not great. To go further on that, run values pinpoint his struggles on the changeup, which stands at minus-2 runs. The only other pitch he struggles with is the curveball, which is also at minus-2 runs (more on that later).
While on the topic of pitch types, Melendez isn't hitting breaking balls the best, posting a .231 average. On the other hand, he's slugging them to the tune of .577. If we look at the slider and curveball for Melendez, it shows that he can't hit the curve well and he is average against the slider. The good thing for Melendez is that he can slug them at .688 and .400. He may not always hit them well but when he does, he crushes them.
The last negative thing about Melendez is kind of important: he has some ridiculous reverse splits. For those who may not know, a reverse split is when a batter is better against a pitcher of the same handedness. As such, Melendez is better against southpaws than righties. How is this bad?
Well, to put it bluntly, Melendez simply hasn't been good enough against righties. His line against them is .208/.309/.365 with an OPS of .674. To add to this he nearly doubles his K% from southpaws to righties from 13.9% to 25.5%. While that needs to see some improvement, his wRC+ against righties is 93 so he isn't that far off from being average. Melendez is still developing, so some negatives were bound to show up. The positive side of his bat makes up for his shortcomings, however.
To stay with the reverse split, let's look at the damage Melendez has done to southpaws. His slash line against them is .364/.417/.697 with a ridiculous OPS of 1.114. Not only is that good — it's really good. This is a small sample size — just 33 at-bats — but Melendez has shown that he can commit some lefty-on-lefty crimes at the plate.
Heading back to run values and pitch types, Melendez is all over cutters and four-seamers. The run value of the cutter for Melendez is 4, he is hitting them at a ridiculous .667 clip while crushing them at 1.677 SLG. Against the four-seamer, he's at a tamer .234 average and .340 SLG. He has also been slightly unlucky hitting fastballs, as the expected stats indicate that he should be hitting them more often and for more extra-base knocks.
These numbers are fantastic and to add to them, Melendez has a wRC+ of 123, with a wOBA (weighted on-base average) of .342. Both are above league average. Another thing worthy of mention is the fact that he's quick for a catcher. He is the fourth-fastest catcher in baseball with a 27.8 ft/s sprint speed. Moreover, he has the quickest home-to-first time of all catchers at 4.20 seconds.
Melendez's defense has been up and down behind the plate, and his framing is not the greatest. With that said, he has been good in his 40 innings as a right fielder. He currently has 1 Out Above Average in right and could accumulate more during the year.
Melendez's play has been good so far, and it looks like he could be the heir to Perez when he inevitably moves to first base or designated hitter. That does potentially lead to issues within the Royals' farm system, though, as pointed out in Royals Review's article from Thursday on where to play Melendez.
Regardless of where Melendez plays, however, the Royals will have a player that can hit and get on base at a good rate. With him and Witt leading the youth revolution of position players in Kansas City, the Royals will be a fun team to watch if they can successfully build around these two potential franchise cornerstones.