The Royals announced they have optioned first baseman Nick Pratto and catcher MJ Melendez to Triple-A Omaha among several moves as they began to winnow their roster down on Monday. Joining them in Omaha will be pitcher Ronald Bolaños, who missed most of last season with a flexor strain. The Royals also optioned infielder Maikel Garcia to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and re-assigned catcher Kale Emshoff, and pitchers Austin Cox, Foster Griffin, and Jace Vines to minor league camp.
Pratto and Melendez were expected to begin this year in the minors to get regular playing time, but they played well in spring training in the big league games. Pratto has hit 5-for-15 (.333) with a triple and a home run and a team-high six walks. He will be the starting first baseman for the Storm Chasers after smacking 36 home runs and hitting .265/.385/.602 in the upper minors last year.
Melendez is hitting 7-for-17 (.412) with a double and a home run. He led the minors in home runs last year with 41 and should be the starting catcher for Omaha, although he spent some time working out at third base in camp.
Garcia impressed manager Mike Matheny with his play in camp, with the skipper telling Anne Rogers the shortstop reminded him of former All-Star Tony Fernandez.
“This guy’s got some hands. He’s got that ‘it’ [factor] at shortstop,” Matheny said. “His movements are really smooth. Different arm angles, but accurate carry on the ball. He doesn’t have that blazing speed, but he’s got quickness. And then [he’s] just fluid, every feed. I see it really coming along.”
The 22-year old hit .291/.380/.405 last year, but has yet to play above High-A. Despite that, he hit 5-for-14 (.357) in big league camp with a stolen base.
Austin Cox, Foster Griffin and Jace Vines are all likely headed to Omaha. Cox impressed last year with a 3.00 ERA in 15 starts for Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and throws from the left side. Griffin made 15 starts across several levels last year after recovering from Tommy John surgery. Vines had a 4.10 ERA in 44 games with Omaha last year, showing improvement once he transitioned to a reliever.
Emshoff, an unsigned free agent out of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2020, spent most of last year in Low-A Columbia. The catcher hit .273/.380/.505 with 10 home runs in 55 games, and shows a lot of offensive potential.
Earlier last week the Royals assigned pitchers Daniel Tillo, Jonathan Bowlan, and Nathan Webb to Double-A Arkansas. On Sunday they assigned pitcher Josh Dye to minor league camp.
Pratto and Melendez are knocking on the door of the big leagues, but finding a place for them in the lineup could be a challenge. Pratto is blocked by Carlos Santana at first base, with Hunter Dozier also likely playing some first when he’s not at DH. All-Star catcher Salvador Perez is blocking Melendez, and even if he spends more time at DH, the Royals will want Melendez to get regular at-bats.
What is interesting is who was not assigned to the minors yet - Vinnie Pasquantino. The 24-year old first baseman has become an internet sensation after making some prospect lists and showing a unique power/contact combination. He has hit 7-for-16 (.438) in camp with two doubles and a home run. The Royals have also yet to assign infielders Clay Dungan or Nathan Eaton or outfielders Dairon Blanco, Brewer Hicklen, or Seuly Matias.