The KC Royals have signed another catcher. Who is this new backstop?
While the KC Royals were piling losses upon losses last week, the front office busied itself signing three new players. Shortstop Alcides Escobar rejoined the club he helped reach two World Series, the club added pitcher Eddie Butler the next day, then inked minor league catcher Gavin Stupienski.
Considering the Royals’ shortstop situation, Escobar’s signing is understandable even if he might not, if eventually called to Kansas City, provide much more offensive punch to the position than Nicky Lopez has in Adalberto Mondesi’s extended absence.
On the other hand, bringing Butler into an organization already rich with pitching prospects is a mystery that may take some time to solve.
And the quiet acquisition of a new catcher raises an important question.
Just who is he?
The short answer is Gavin Stupienski. He’s 27, throws right and bats left, and started in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ organization after playing college ball at North Carolina-Wilmington. The D-backs picked him in the 12th round of the 2016 amateur draft (he was the 359th overall selection), and he made his professional debut that summer with the Hillsboro Hops, Arizona’s short-season Class A affiliate.
Stupienski played four games with the Hops before the D-backs reassigned him to their Arizona rookie ball entry, where he hit .250 with a home run and 12 RBIs in 22 games.
He began 2017 with Missoula, another Diamondback rookie level club, returned to Hillsboro less than a week later, then found himself back at Missoula four days after that. It was an excellent second season for Stupienski: between his two clubs, he slashed .354/.402/.573 in 21 games, and added three homers and 18 RBIs.
Arizona released Stupienski before the 2018 season began, but he caught on with Winnipeg in the independent American Association and hit .236 in 34 games. He stayed in independent ball in 2019, and batted .111 in a brief stint with Lake Erie in the Frontier League before finishing with Can-Am League Sussex County, where he hit .248 with a homer and 13 RBIs in 44 games.
He played with independent Sussex County for last season’s All-American Baseball Challenge and slashed .363/.474/.463 with a pair of home runs and 17 RBIs in 22 games.
Now, Stupienski returns to affiliated baseball and seems pleased with his new home:
Where Stupienski’s new contract will lead remains to be seen. The Royals assigned him to their Northwest Arkansas Double-A affiliate, where he joins fellow catchers MJ Melendez, offseason acquisition Tyler Cropley, and Allan de San Miguel. And with Meibrys Viloria, Freddy Fermin, Nick Dini and Nate Esposito ahead of all of them at Triple-A Omaha, the road to a spot behind the plate at Kauffman Stadium is crowded.
Stupienski has his work cut out for him.
The KC Royals have added Gavin Stupienski to the organization’s catching mix. He should be worth watching.