Royals: Can old friend minor league free agents help KC?

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 03: Terrance Gore #0 of the Kansas City Royals in action during the game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium on September 3, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 03: Terrance Gore #0 of the Kansas City Royals in action during the game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium on September 3, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /
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Kansas city Royals (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA – JUNE 30: Salvador Perez #13 of the Kansas City Royals reacts after a sacrifice fly out by Mike Zunino #3 to score Ben Gamel #16 of the Seattle Mariners in the second inning to give the Seattle Mariners a 4-3 lead during their game at Safeco Field on June 30, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

A Gold Glove All-Star catcher returns to the Kansas City Royals in 2020 after injury wiped out his 2019 season. Well-stocked with potential backup catchers, KC probably doesn’t need more at the big league level.

Beloved veteran catcher Salvador Perez makes his return to the Royals next season after Tommy John surgery deprived him of the opportunity in 2019 to add to his collection of Gold Gloves and All-Star berths. Cam Gallagher, Meibrys Viloria and Nick Dini shouldered much of the burden of filling in for Perez last season; all are still with the organization, so there is little need to search for more catchers.

But at least one minor league free agent catcher with Royals’ system experience deserves some attention. Xavier Fernandez, an 11th-round draft pick of the Royals in 2013, is a decent hitter–he hit .327 in 47 minor league games in 2017, .328 in 36 AA games in 2018, and .272 in 39 games at Omaha in 2019 after advancing to AAA for the first time, and has a career batting average of .272. Although he rarely hits for power, Fernandez has a knack for getting on base. He could be a valuable minor league catcher in 2020 and a potential big league backstop if injury strikes Perez or any of his established backups.

Kansas City Royals (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO – SEPTEMBER 15: Christian Colon #24 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates his three-run home run with Raul Mondesi #27 and Hunter Dozier #60 in the ninth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium on September 15, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

The Kansas City Royals aren’t short on infielders, making it unlikely they’ll sign any this offseason including a player who occupies unforgettable places in the club’s postseason history.

Christian Colon played in only parts of four seasons for the Royals and never established himself as an everyday player. But despite his bit-part utility infielder role, Colon’s place in Royals’ lore is firmly established. It was Colon who, in his rookie season, drove in the tying run and scored the winner in the club’s historic come from behind extra-inning victory over Oakland in the 2014 American League Wild Card game; in the 2015 World Series, he drove in the eventual winning run in the title-clinching fifth game against the Mets.

Colon appeared in 54 games for KC in 2016 and hit the only home run of his major league career. He returned for just seven games in 2017 before being DFA’d and claimed by the Marlins, for whom he played in 38 games and slashed a mere .152/.243/.182. He spent all of 2018 and most of 2019 in the minors, although he did appear in eight games for Cincinnati.

Colon’s career .256 batting average is adequate for his role, but a bit misleading: he hit .333 in 21 games for the Royals in 2014, .290 in 43 games in 2015, and .231 in 54 2016 games before dipping to .160 in 24 games split between KC and Miami in 2017. (He had three hits in six at-bats for the Reds in 2018).

Colon, 30 and entering his age-31 season, has displayed adequate defensive skills playing second base, shortstop and third. The Royals appear set at those positions with Nicky Lopez and Whit Merrifield at second, Adalberto Mondesi and Lopez at short, and probably Hunter Dozier at third; Colon’s infield versatility and the Royals’ familiarity with him might justify giving him a look, but his one career home run reflects his lack of power and his plate performance is in steady decline. And, as mentioned previously in this space, the Royals may want to seriously consider pursuing major league free agent and versatile Wilmer Flores as better infield insurance.

Emilio Bonifacio is an 11-year major league veteran who spent 2013 with the Royals.  It was a short, but good, stay for Bonifacio–he hit .285 and stole 16 bases in 42 games. Released after the season, Bonifacio caught on with the Cubs and Braves in 2014, played for the White Sox in 2015, and returned to Atlanta for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. He didn’t play big-league ball in 2018 or 2019, but enjoyed a good season for Tampa Bay in AAA last season, slashing .286/.353/.475 to go with a .828 OPS and 15 stolen bases.

Bonifacio is good defensively and can play in the infield or outfield. Whether he plays in the majors or minors in 2020, he’s entering his age 35 season and hasn’t played big-league ball since 2017. His better days are probably behind him; if the Royals need a utility infielder, Flores or the younger Colon would be better choices.