Melendez (6 RBIs) rakes as hungry Royals rookies feast

Young hitters drive in 12 runs to match club mark and secure series win over Red Sox

August 7th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals are letting the kids play, and it looks like it’s going to be all right.

A youth movement has stormed to Kansas City over the past week as the Royals took three out of four against the Red Sox, capped by Sunday afternoon’s 13-5 win at Kauffman Stadium. All 12 RBIs were logged by rookies, which matched the club record previously accomplished in Game 2 of a doubleheader on Aug. 21, 1995.

There is a different feeling in the clubhouse pregame and postgame, on the field and in the dugout. The Royals are playing loose and free, and they’re having fun while doing it.

Just one example: Vinnie Pasquantino and Nicky Lopez, who both had days off on Sunday, were trying to get on the "Simba Cam" from the dugout early in the game.

“I don’t think this has been a team low on energy, but as you bring in different people, it’s a different energy,” manager Mike Matheny said. “A different level of excitement from our fans. We sense that. We feel that. But it also comes from having some success. … There are constant teaching moments, and they’ve got the hunger plus humility to take in what we’re trying to give them and learn something new every day. That’s how we all get better.”

There is fun to be had, but on-field success is the priority. And while there will undoubtedly be struggles -- the Royals (44-65) are still 21 games under .500 -- Sunday’s game displayed the hope that the front office has in this young wave of talent.

A career-best six runs were driven in by catcher and leadoff hitter MJ Melendez, who became the sixth Royals rookie with a six-plus RBI game, joining Clint Hurdle (six), Bo Jackson (seven), Kevin Seitzer (seven), Calvin Pickering (six) and Billy Butler, who had been the last with six in 2007.

Melendez now has three home runs in his past four games following his three-run jack in the fifth inning, a Statcast-projected 406-foot blast to the Pepsi Porch in right-center. He has at least one RBI in a career-best four straight games and he went 6-for-14 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in this series against Boston.

“He’s just got a gift of finding the barrel,” Matheny said. “When he finds the barrel, it looks different than what most people are able to do.”

The 23-year-old Melendez has easy power, showcased plenty last season as the Minor League home run leader, but his approach is just as impressive. After Michael Massey scored on a balk in the third inning, Melendez drove a single up the middle for the second run. And in both the seventh and eighth innings, he came to the plate with a runner on third base and fewer than two outs, and he drove the ball deep to center field for sacrifice flies.

“It’s easy to get away from yourself if you see yourself as a power hitter,” said Melendez, who also caught Brad Keller’s team-leading 11th quality start. “… I don’t feel like that’s my game. I’m a hitter that can get on base, put the ball in play when I need to. My goal is just to get on base every time and get a good pitch to hit. If I don’t get that, take my base.”

The Royals received production up and down the lineup and came up big in clutch situations, going 6-for-8 with runners in scoring position -- an area they’ve struggled with this year -- and leaving just three on base.

Massey was 2-for-3 with a walk and two RBIs. Kyle Isbel and Nate Eaton had a double and a triple apiece; Isbel drove in three runs, including a two-run double in a left-on-left matchup against Austin Davis as part of the Royals’ six-run eighth inning.

Not only do these rookies feed off each other in the clubhouse, but they’re leaning on each other in the field. It’s what they’ve done their entire professional careers, with many of them playing on the same teams as they’ve grown up in the Royals’ system.

“Guys are having fun, coming in and enjoying being here,” Massey said. “It helps having guys go through the same experience you’re going through.”

The alternate training site in the pandemic-affected 2020 season offered a unique atmosphere for several players to compete against each other -- and spend nearly all their time with each other that season.

“In a year that we thought it might be a lost season for the Minor Leagues, there are some intangibles that I believe we’re seeing the fruit of right now,” Matheny said. “… There’s a lot of time-invested friendships there, and I think it makes the transition easier. They truly pull for each other because they really know each other’s story.

“We’re quickly, all of us and the whole fan base, falling in love with them.”