KC Royals rookie MJ Melendez makes his presence felt, drives in 6 runs to beat Red Sox

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MJ Melendez did more than his share of damage last year in the minors. The Kansas City Royals’ former second round draft pick crushed 41 homers last season to lead all minor-league players and the second-most by a Royals minor-leaguer in the organization’s history.

In his 78th game in the majors, Melendez put on a display of how impactful he can be with more than just the long ball. Melendez drove in a career-high six runs in the Royals’ 13-5 series-clinching win over the Boston Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The left-handed-hitting Melendez, 23, belted his 13th home run of the season, the fourth time this season he has hit home runs in back-to-back games since being called up on May 2.

“He’s got a gift of finding the barrel,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said of Melendez. “And when he finds the barrel, it looks different than what most people are able to do.”

Matheny marveled at the way balls struck by Melendez carry compared to some of the best hitters in the world.

“Seeing how his looks different, that stands out,” Matheny said.

Melendez drove in runs in various ways. He lined an RBI single up the middle in the third inning, blasted a 406-foot three-run homer in the fifth, and had sacrifice flies in the seventh and eighth innings.

“What do I gotta do to help our team win right now, that was really the approach,” Matheny said. “It seems like MJ has done a nice job with that. What we’re teaching when we get into those spots with a man on third, less than two (outs) and the infield starting to creep in (is) drive hard at the middle of the field. That’s really his swing, and it’s working out really well.”

The most recent six-RBI game for a Royals player came courtesy of Jorge Soler’s six-RBI game against the Detroit Tigers on May 11, 2021.

Melendez, who caught and batted leadoff, also became the youngest Royals player to have such a performance since Billy Butler drove in six against the Seattle Mariners on July 3, 2007.

For the season, Melendez has slashed .236/.320/.442. He entered the day ranked among the American League rookie leaders in walks (tied for first, 36), extra-base hits (tied for third, 28), home runs (fourth), RBI (fifth, 32) and on-base percentage (sixth).

Despite his impressive power at the plate and his ability to consistently drive the ball out of Kauffman Stadium, which is no small task, Melendez bristles at the notion of being known as a “power hitter.”

That’s largely because of the connotation of that term with a lot of all-or-nothing swings as well as a high tendency to swing and miss.

“I don’t feel like that’s my game,” Melendez said. “I feel like I’m a hitter that can get on base, put the ball in play whenever I need to. My goal is just get on base every time. Get a good pitch to hit. If I don’t get that, just take my base and walk.”

Last season along with this gaudy home run total, he posted a .386 on-base percentage. He finished last season at Triple-A, but still garnered Double-A Central League Most Valuable Player honors as well as a nod as the catcher on the league’s postseason All-Star team.

After the trade deadline, the Royals have gotten even younger with the additions of rookies such as Nate Eaton and Michael Massey to join a group of rookies that also includes Bobby Witt Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino, Kyle Isbel and Saturday night’s walk-off hero Nick Pratto.

Melendez lauded the “chemistry” between the players, the relaxed atmosphere that starts even before the games, and he described the club as playing “loose.”

Melendez was part of a 13-run scoring outburst on Sunday that included all 12 of the team’s RBIs coming via rookies. He, obviously, shouldered the lion’s share with six RBIs.

“That’s something I didn’t know until after the game, it was mentioned,” Melendez said. “Super impressive. I have confidence in every single one of these guys on this team, and you know they have confidence in themselves.”