On Monday, February 14, pitchers and catchers will report to the Royals spring training facilities in Suprise, Arizona. In honor of this joyous occasion, let’s take a look at the Royals options at catcher this year.
Last year’s 118 game starter, Jason Kendall, is out with a sholder injury to start the year, so
Brayan Peña and Lucas May will get most of the looks during spring training (more on them later). But don’t count out the gritty, calloused, 36-year-old just yet.
Two weeks ago, Kendall told the Kansas City Star, “I still expect to be back for Opening Day.” He added the caveat, “I’m gonna play sooner than later, but I’m not gonna be foolish about it, either.”
So, regardless of his current health, we can all take a deep breath and brace ourselves for a year of watching base runners test Kendall’s surgically reconstructed shoulder.
It will be a hard season. Last year Kendall allowed an MLB high of 101 stolen bases, sported the sixth worst OPS, recorded his highest amount of errors (13) in nine years, his worst range factor per nine (6.97) in seven years and his lowest amount of putouts (721) in 11 years all while starting the second least amount of games in his entire career.
We at Kings of Kauffman have already spoken at length about his weak bat in the #2 spot, but I feel like there’s a few other numbers worth noting. Last year Kendall hit .256/.318/.297 and drove in only 111 hits (third lowest in his career) 37 RBIs (the lowest tally in his career) and put together a 71 OPS+ (the second worst in his career).
The aging catcher doesn’t look like he will be turning any heads this year, but perhaps his sharp decline can open the door for back-up and minor league options Peña and May. However, Kendall did start 118 games last year and Ned Yost seems happy to keep that trend rolling along.
The Royals best prospect at catcher, Wil Myers, was recently moved to the outfield to speed up his arrival to the majors, so the team doesn’t have a lot of sterling offensive options waiting in the wings.
The first option, and likely Opening Day starter if Kendall isn’t recovered by then is Brayan Peña. The Royals won only 15 of the 60 games Peña started. Defensively, Peña is only slightly better than Kendall. In 2010, Peña recorded a better-than-Kendall 7.82 range factor per nine, an identical 29 percent caught steeling and a slightly better .990 fielding percentage (as compared to Kendall’s .984).
Offensively Peña is a big question mark. He went .253/.306/.335 and recorded a Kendall-esque .642 OPS and 76 OPS+ in the 2010 season. But, when Peña was the every day starter in September his monthly average exploded to .333/.370/.478 while he recorded 12 RBIs and 23 hits.
There’s no certainty to Peña, but his numbers show that he can be a contributing member of the team offensively when he’s given the chance to be the every day starter. It would be wise to keep an eye on him in the coming weeks.
Lucas “Luke Dog” May is the wild card in the picture. The 25-year-old former Dodgers prospect has shown he’s capable at the minor league level. Last season he put together a .283/.349/.483 line in three triple A stops, but he did not match that success in the majors. In 12 games, May recorded a .189/.205/.216 with 7 runs and 6 RBIs.
In his time in the bigs, May showed some defensive ability. 7.00 range factor per nine, a 22 percent caught stealing rate, and a 1.000 fielding rate. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to these stats considering the extremely small sample size.
So what’s the verdict? After recovering from injury Kendall will likely get the lion’s share of the starts, and the Royals will be no better off because of it. Peña represents an interesting offensive option, but I can’t see him winning time away from Kendall unless he has a head turning spring.