Meibrys Viloria has served the KC Royals well, but do they have room for him?
Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman’s Royals Projections series for 2021. Between now and Opening Day, our writers are analyzing how various Royals performed last season and predicting how they might fare this year. Up today is catcher Meibrys Viloria.
Meibrys Viloria is, as they say, out of options. Literally and figuratively, he has no clearly pleasant alternative to not making the KC Royals’ 2021 roster.
The Royals have exhausted Viloria’s minor league options, meaning (as we explained in this space last year) he can’t be sent down to one of their remaining post-contraction farm teams without first clearing waivers. Bur even if no other team claims him, there isn’t much room for him in the organization. He isn’t replacing Salvador Perez or prime backup Cam Gallagher; MJ Melendez, presently the club’s No. 12 prospect per MLB Pipeline, isn’t going anywhere; Sebastian Rivero is progressing; and the club likes Kale Emshoff, one of their 2020 undrafted free agent signings.
What makes Viloria’s position so frustrating is that he’s served the Royals well, having been rushed from Class A ball to the major leagues late in the 2018 campaign when Salvador Perez went down with an injury and Gallagher needed a backup. He found himself in the same position in 2019 when Perez lost the season to Tommy John surgery and Gallagher again required a backup after the Royals traded Perez-substitute Martin Maldonado to the Cubs.
Viloria can catch, but hasn’t proven he can hit big league pitching, a shortcoming reflected in his 67-game career .215 average, and perhaps best explained by the fact he’s never played at the Triple A level, the next best thing to the majors and a critical stepping stone for hitters.
So, after Perez’s stunningly good comeback last season and Gallagher’s solid claim to the backup job, what will happen to Viloria in 2021?
Baseball Reference and FanGraphs projections for Viloria’s KC Royals season
Baseball Reference and FanGraphs view Viloria quite differently. Clearly envisioning something happening to or with Perez or Gallagher, Baseball Reference predicts he’ll get 247 plate appearances, hit six home runs, drive in 28 and post a .236/.308/.368 line. FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) projects 51 PAs, one homer, four RBIs, and a .226/.289/.327 slash, numbers far more in line with his career stats.
What kind of 2021 season will Viloria actually have for the KC Royals?
Viloria’s 2021 fate is very much in the hands of Perez and Gallagher. If either is hurt this spring and isn’t ready for Opening Day, Viloria stands an excellent chance to break camp with the club. But if the Royals’ top two backstops are healthy a month from now, there simply isn’t room for a third catcher on a roster that will likely include an extra pitcher or two as hurlers gradually prepare their arms for a full season.
Triple A is where Viloria needs, and has always needed, to be development-wise, but it’s probably time for Kansas City to give the starting and backup Omaha jobs to Melendez and Rivero, which will deprive Viloria of everyday opportunities to hone his hitting skills. The Royals also have other young prospects who need to play at the lower levels. And, his options gone, Viloria will have to clear waivers before he can play for any of KC’s farm teams.
Viloria is in a career pinch, his future with the organization probably dependent on the health of two veteran catchers and the development needs of less experienced players. If for some reason the KC Royals require his services, and he somehow manages to stick somewhere in the organization, his performance will be closer to FanGraphs’ projection than Baseball Reference’s. He won’t display much, if any, power, drive in many runs, or hit very well; he will, however, be decent behind the plate.
Meibrys Viloria may not play for Kansas City or any of its minor league teams this season. But if he’s still around the organization and the Royals need him, he’ll be the defensively serviceable catcher he’s always been for them.