Melendez moves to outfield full-time; No. 3 prospect Garcia recalled

May 2nd, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals made a series of moves that have a ripple effect with players on the active roster as they opened a three-game series against the Orioles on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.

Infielder , who is ranked as the Royals' No. 3 prospect, was recalled from Triple-A Omaha and played third base Tuesday night. The corresponding move was to option designated hitter to Omaha. Additionally, infielder was placed on the 10-day injured list after having an emergency appendectomy early Sunday morning in Minneapolis. The corresponding move for Lopez was to recall catcher , who is allowed to return to the Majors just four days after his last option because he’s replacing an injured player.

The reason the Royals opted for a catcher instead of a different position is because of the club’s plan for , who has been juggling the outfield and catching to start the season.

For now, Melendez will start in the outfield exclusively, while Fermin will serve as the primary backup catcher to .

The Royals hope the move -- which will allow Melendez to spend less time in pitching and game-planning meetings -- frees Melendez up to get his bat back on track. The 24-year-old is slashing .174/.267/.315 with a 35.2% strikeout rate in 25 games to start the season.

“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.”

Royals manager Matt Quatraro noted that this plan could change depending on the health of Perez and Fermin, or if the Royals need a third catcher at the end of a game. Having Melendez as a full-time outfielder means Quatraro will use the designated hitter spot for , or , as well as Perez on days he doesn’t catch.

That would limit Reyes’ opportunities in the lineup. The 27-year-old has struggled to start the season, posting a .519 OPS with a 36.5% strikeout rate.

“We think a lot of Franmil,” Quatraro said. “He’s shown some really good power in the big leagues for a number of years, and we just really need him to get right so he can be up here and feel like a contributor and be a big part of the lineup.”

Garcia, 23, impressed Royals’ coaches in Spring Training and nearly forced his way onto the Opening Day roster because of his bat. He went to Omaha to continue to get everyday playing time and reps at third base, where he will likely get the most playing time in Kansas City. With Lopez on the IL, Garcia will also serve as the Royals’ backup shortstop.

“The impression I had of him in Spring Training was tremendous,” Quatraro said. “Great athlete, moved all over the field, looked natural wherever he was. Swung the bat really well. … He will get considerable reps at third, but he will probably move around the infield as well.”

Garcia slashed .242/.348/.347 in 24 games in Omaha and walked at a 14.3% clip. He played 14 games at shortstop and 10 at third base, and while he made five errors at the hot corner recently, he said Tuesday that he’s more comfortable with the position than ever before.

“It’s an unfortunate situation with Nicky, going through what he’s going through, but defensively, I think Maikel can help us,” Picollo said. “From an offensive standpoint, he was having a solid month of April. You look at some of the things we value most, the swing decisions have been good. Results probably don’t speak for what we think the swing decisions indicate. Overall, he’s done a nice job.”

Lopez was back at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday, two days after emergency surgery to take out his appendix in Minneapolis. The Royals’ infielder is scheduled for a checkup next week to make sure he’s healing properly, and if all goes well, he’s expecting to be back on the field in two to four weeks.