The Royals announced that MJ Melendez will play exclusively in the outfield in the near future in an attempt to allow him to focus on his offense. Freddy Fermín, who was recalled on Tuesday, will serve as the backup catcher behind Salvador Perez. Melendez has made 16 of his 25 starts in the outfield - all in right field, with 7 starts at catcher, and 2 at designated hitter.
J.J. Picollo discussed the move with Anne Rogers.
“Taking a little bit off his mind from a preparation standpoint, because these catchers put a lot of work into getting ready for a game,” general manager J.J. Picollo said. “Taking that off his mind right now and focusing on the bat, we think [it] will pay dividends. It’s something we thought we should do at this point.
“It’s not a move because he hasn’t done well defensively. We think there’s been a lot of improvement. But he’s a big part of our offense. If we can jumpstart him that way — plus we have Freddy, who we believe in as well, it gives him a chance to get some experience at this level.”
Melendez had a productive rookie season last year but is off to a slow start in 2023, hitting just .177/.266/.344 in 26 games. He hit his third home run of the season last night against the Orioles, but has a strikeout rate of 34.9 percent and the highest swinging strike rate in baseball.
By the eye test, Melendez has been a bit rough in the outfield, although he has made some progress. According to Baseball Savant, he has been in the middle of the pack in “outfield jump”, so he has been getting good reads on balls. It is too small of a sample size to glean much from his defensive metrics so far, but they’re not bad at all.
Last December, Picollo said the Royals were still committed to Melendez as a catcher, adding he was “too young to give up on a premium position.” He has struggled defensively behind the plate with the among the worst metrics in framing and pitch blocking. With Salvador Perez still productive and signed to a long-term deal that runs through 2025 with a 2026 club option, it is not clear how Melendez will be able to develop at the position. He drew trade interest from other clubs last off-season, but the Royals were not inclined to move him.
Where is MJ Melendez in 2024?
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