MJ Melendez has quickly cemented his spot as one of the Kansas City Royals' best prospects. The lefty-hitting, righty-throwing catcher is MLB.com's No. 4 prospect in the organization, and Jim Bowden of The Athletic recently ranked him 17th on his top-50 overall prospect list. By all accounts, he's the real deal.
With that said, he faces the Royals will a difficult question to answer: Where should they play him?
Catcher makes the most sense given the player, sure. It's Melendez's natural position. He's a clear plus on defense, boasting a plus arm and the ability to effectively call a game and accurately frame pitches behind the plate. Taking prospects away from their normal spots in the field can oftentimes have a negative impact on their performance. The Royals might try it, though.
In Tuesday night's contest for Triple-A Omaha, Melendez played third base. At the plate, he was terrific. He tied the minor league lead for home runs with 34 and also recorded a pair of walks. In the field, his night was a mixed bag. He made a somewhat errant throw but also displayed some great range and instincts while chasing a pop-up. These growing pains are something the organization will have to be fine accepting and dealing with.
The aforementioned point about Perez being entrenched behind the plate is a valid one. The Royals' All-Star is having the best season of his career and doesn't show any signs of slowing down. Many have proposed a future platoon of sorts with Perez and Melendez in which the two would split time behind the plate and alternate at designated hitter.
The catcher-DH swap makes sense but until Perez is ready to be relieved of his catching duties that many times (as many as 60 or even 80 days a year), the concept may not come to fruition. Consequently, finding daily at-bats for Melendez remains a priority. This new plan may assist in accomplishing that goal.
A lot is made of Melendez's athleticism. He isn't the 6'3", 255-pound force that Perez is behind the plate. Melendez is 6'1" and weighs 190 pounds. That kind of frame typically plays much better elsewhere than one similar to that of Perez. He seems to be a very intelligent player who, if given enough time, could adapt and learn a few other positions. What are the possibilities?
Third base and right field seem like the only two logical spots. With Hunter Dozier's inconsistency at the plate and his struggles manning the hot corner, moving him somewhere else wouldn't be the worst idea. Right field has been a sore spot for the Royals in the recent past and while Edward Olivares' bat projects to perhaps play at the major league level, he's a poor defender in the corner outfield. Not only is shifting him to centerfield a bad idea, but it could turn out to be ugly.
First base has been floated around by some but with Carlos Santana entrenched there until Nick Pratto is MLB-ready and Dozier's ability to play there as needed, getting Melendez any consistent time doesn't seem likely. It also would be doing his instincts and natural athleticism a bit of a disservice.
There's no clear answer for where the Royals should put Melendez once he's with the major league team. The bat appears ready, as he's slashing a .281/.373/.624 line on the season, including a .259/.377/.603 one with the Storm Chasers. Hitting for power and getting on base shouldn't be an issue. The true challenge for him and the Royals will be finding places for him to fill in as a defensive chess piece. Whether it's at catcher, third base or right field, Melendez being used as a rotational option is more of an idea now than it was earlier this year.
Is that idea a good one? That remains to be seen. It's hard for veterans — let alone rookies — to learn and subsequently play multiple positions. Melendez should be able to handle it and in an ideal world, he'll still spend most of his time catching. As long as Perez is the primary backstop, though, maintaining a balance will be much easier said than done.