KC Royals: A trio of last-minute non-tender candidates

(Photo by Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo by Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports) /
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KC Royals, Meibrys Viloria
(Photo by Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports) /

A KC Royals catcher pressed into service by injuries to Salvador Perez may soon become a free agent.

The KC Royals’ Meibrys Viloria is a major league anomaly. That he made it to the big leagues before playing even an inning above Class A ball and has yet to see Triple A are distinctions he owes primarily to the health of Salvador Perez.

Perez’s August 2018 thumb injury was the first in a unique sequence of events that led to Viloria’s big league debut. When it became obvious Perez’s thumb required rest, backup catcher Drew Butera started the Aug. 29 game. The team didn’t play the next day.

Then, on Aug. 31, the Royals traded Butera to the Rockies and, suddenly needing a catcher, recalled Cam Gallagher from Omaha. But that made Gallagher KC’s only catcher.

With the active roster full, the Royals gambled and delayed adding a catcher as the hours ticked away to the Sept. 1 roster expansion date. Then they dipped down to Class A Wilmington for Viloria; he debuted started behind the plate Sept. 2 and doubled home two runs. He finished the season with a .259 average in 10 games.

Perez injured his UCL the following spring training and the Royals acquired Martine Maldonado to replace him; when they traded Maldonado to the Cubs in July, Gallagher moved into the starting role and Kansas City, again in need of a backup, recalled Viloria. He hit .211 with one homer in 42 games.

Viloria was set to begin 2020 in Double A but, with the minor league season lost to COVID-19, was assigned instead to the KC Royals’ alternate training site. Once again, though, Perez’s health contributed to another callup: a mid-August vision issue sidelined him and Viloria returned to back up Gallagher. He hit .190 in 15 games.

That the Royals trust Viloria’s catching is obvious. But he hasn’t measured up to his .280 career minor league average (skewed somewhat by a .376 campaign at Idaho Falls in 2016), a flaw perhaps owing to never experiencing the transitional stage Triple A pitching can provide. As his .215 average suggests, Viloria simply struggles against big league hurlers. That doesn’t bode well for his KC future.

Compounding the problem is Kansas City’s overall catching picture. The Royals will certainly extend Perez’s contract for all the obvious reasons; Gallagher is clearly the main backup; at No. 13, MJ Melendez is among mlb.com’s Top 30 Royals prospects and has more power than Viloria; Sebastian Rivero was just added to the 40-man; and the club is high on Kale Emshoff, an undrafted free agent with some pop they signed last summer.

Related Story. Extend Salvador Perez soon. light

Viloria, then, might not have a bright future with the Royals and could be a non-tender victim.