The KC Royals can thank catcher Meibrys Viloria. He’s been there every time they’ve needed him, first in 2018 when the club plucked him from A-ball to back up Cam Gallagher after an injury felled Salvador Perez, then again a year later when Perez missed the season and the Royals traded Martin Maldonado, leaving Gallagher their only backstop.
The emergency work he performed gave Viloria valuable major league experience—67 games to be precise—but probably hampered the overall development and progress of a promising player who hadn’t played above Double-A in the minor leagues until this season. Although he hit .259 in 10 Kansas City games in 2018, he dropped to .211 in 42 2019 games, then to .190 in the 15 contests he appeared in for the Royals during last year’s reduced season.
That big league pitching currently overmatches him is obvious; how much his early promotions to Kansas City have contributed is unknown, but they probably haven’t helped his batting.
Now, and again via circumstances having little to do with his performance, Viloria finds himself where the KC Royals apparently need him most. But for the still-young catcher (he’s only 24), the path he’s taking isn’t the one he probably prefers.
The organization demoted him from Triple-A Omaha to Double-A Northwest Arkansas almost two weeks ago. Kauffman Stadium is, of course, in the other direction.
On paper, the move seems a bit curious. The 54 pre-demotion games Viloria played for the Storm Chasers are more than any other Omaha catcher this season, his five home runs were two more than the three Omaha catchers Sebastian Rivero and Nick Dini have each hit through Sunday, and only three fewer than his minor league best, and his .367 OBP helped make up for a .233 batting average.
But paper only has so much to do with pro ball personnel decisions, and such seems to be the case with Viloria. The organization had to make a move in Omaha—MJ Melendez, the organization’s fifth best prospect per MLB Pipeline, was overpowering Double-A pitching (28 homers, 65 RBIs, and a .285/.372/.628 line), nothing was left for him to prove there, and he needed to move up.
So it was that the Royals sent Viloria to Northwest Arkansas to clear roster space for Melendez in Omaha. With a .229 average and three homers and seven RBIs in 10 games, Melendez isn’t yet setting his new league ablaze; Viloria is hitting .281 with a homer, three RBIs, and a .361 OBP in nine games.
Does Meibrys Viloria’s demotion mean he’s out of the KC Royals’ plans?
The sample size is too small to justify declaring Viloria a better hitter, but improving statistically after a demotion isn’t a bad thing. The best way for him to confirm his value to the Kansas City organization is to hit better for the rest of the Naturals’ season.
Maintaining a better bat, though, may not be enough to keep Viloria on the Royals’ already catcher-crowded radar. Salvador Perez begins his four-year franchise record contract extension next season and probably won’t be going anywhere until he retires, Gallagher’s backup role seems secure, and as long as the club can find a place for him to play regularly, Melendez will find his way to Kansas City for the first time before Viloria find his way back to The K.
But that’s not all. The Royals appear high on Omaha’s Rivero, who served a short stint as Perez’s big league backup when Gallagher was hurt earlier this year; Quad Cities (High-A) backstop Logan Porter, who’s hit 12 homers with a .258/.393/.485 line this season; and Kale Emshoff and his nine home runs, 41 RBIs and .271/.373/.490 slash at Low-A Columbia.
And why the Kansas City brass demoted Viloria instead of Nick Dini or Nate Esposito is somewhat of a mystery. Perhaps the Royals are more comfortable having Viloria catch and handle Northwest Arkansas’ more inexperienced pitchers, want him to work on his hitting in Double-A, believe others will be better backups to Melendez, or want Viloria to play more regularly than he can with Melendez in the Storm Chaser lineup.
Or maybe Viloria simply isn’t in Kansas City’s long-term plans. With Perez, Gallagher, Melendez, and perhaps Rivero, ahead of him, that may be true, and the writing could be on the wall. If that’s the case, Viloria needs to hit well between now and the Naturals’ final game Sept. 19.
It’s the surest path to staying in pro ball, or moving back into the Kansas City picture if he’s on the way out of it now.
Is Meibrys Viloria on the KC Royals’ personnel bubble? We shall see.