MJ Melendez learning different positions

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Late in the sixth inning Wednesday afternoon in Scottsdale, Ariz., where the Royals faced the Rockies at Salt River Fields in Talking Stick, Kansas City made a series of defensive changes.

One of them was MJ Melendez, the Royals’ top prospect and No. 2 overall on Kansas City’s top-30 list, checking in at third base. It was Melendez’s first appearance in the hot corner this spring, and while it doesn’t signal a big change ahead for the high-ceilinged receiver, it does provide some insight into the Royals’ plans for when Melendez is ready for his debut.

Melendez, who crushed a two-out home run in the ninth inning of the Royals’ 8-4 loss to Rangers at Surprise Stadium on Friday, was the Minor League home run leader last year with 41. He finished 2021 with a .288/.386/.625 line and 21.7% strikeout rate in 123 games spent between Double-A and Triple-A.

Few minor leaguers did more to replenish their stocks last season as Melendez, and now he’s on the brink of the majors. The swing he had on Friday showed precisely why. It was the second time he had prepared to pinch hit – he was on deck in the bottom of the sixth before the end of the inning – and he committed two quick strikes against Eris Filpo. Melendez then smashed a fastball straight into the center field wall for a no-doubt on a hot Arizona day with no wind.

“He’s come a long way with his swing,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He is dangerous.”

The only problem – and the Royals wouldn’t call it a problem at all – is that there are seven-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glover and World Series winner supporting the Royals for the foreseeable future.

Melendez isn’t targeting Salvador Perez’s spot in 2022, but if he continues to rake in Triple-A, the Royals will want to see his bat in Kansas City at some point this season.

“That’s part of the reason why we had a few of MJ’s looks in different places, knowing that was a very good bat last year,” Matheny said. “If he is able to continue to improve, how can we give him opportunities, if necessary? It’s just about trying to be a little creative and not make big changes. Because he’s a good receiver. It’s just where is the opportunity, and how do you make the most of the talent and the opportunity combined? »

Melendez is a positive defender behind the plate and catches regularly, but he gets reps at third base and outfield on the backfields. He only saw action at third base and is open wherever the Royals need him.

“At the end of the day, what I want to do is help the team win, and I will do that any way I can,” Melendez said. “I feel like if I can produce on the offensive side, being able to find a position for me to play on certain days is definitely a very real option. Whatever they ask me to do, if I can do, I know I’ll put 100% of my effort into it, whether it’s third base, catching [or] DH-ing.

Third base brings a different pace of play from catching, where Melendez is involved in every throw. He’s learning the nuances of the infield, but he fits in well there because of his positive arm and quick instinct.

“I like it,” Melendez said. “It’s definitely a different pace of play. You are not involved in every game like you are when you are catching. I think the hardest part is making sure I’m always ready and keeping my arm ready and loose. You may not be able to play for a few rounds, so stay alert [and] stay aware, as the ball could hit you at any time.

Hernández’s spring debut
Right-hander Carlos Hernández made his spring debut on Friday, and his performance was better than his last line of three runs allowed in two innings showed. Brad Miller wiped out a first-pitch fastball for a first home run, and Eli White followed that inning with his own two-run blast.

But Hernández and the Royals were happy with his attack-first mentality, despite what the line said. Hernández looked much better in his second round, generating low contact and knocking out Miller to end the round.

“We want him to attack the area and trust his stuff,” explained Matheny. “You have 98-100 mph and a change more, and you can go to a curveball and a slider and throw both for strikes. Fill it. Trust your stuff. It’s without game planning, knowing which guys are going to come in there ready to swing at the fastball from the first pitch. That’s more information we’ll have once we get into the season.

“Right now it’s about executing the pitch.”

Brentz makes quick work of 7th
Jake Brentz didn’t get a chance to pitch his substitution Friday because he only needed five pitches to get three outs. The left-handed exit was about as effective as it could have been.

“We want him effective in the zone like that,” Matheny said. “…He has a lot of weapons to do it, and the ball was jumping out of his hands today.”

Brentz introduced a two-seam fastball to his repertoire this spring to get a horizontal break, as opposed to vertical movement on his four-seam fastball. Pairing the double-stitch with his quad-stitch with his biting slider gives Brentz another weapon as the league adjusts to its second season.

“I worked hard this offseason to make sure I could throw any pitch in any account,” Brentz explained. “I’m doing this right now, and I’m just trying to attack people right now. Figuring out where to throw that double-seam and going there to get ahead of the guys and put them away.

Neal T. Doss