2 crowded out KC Royals prospects find new homes

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals are well-stocked with talented catching and infield prospects. MJ Melendez’s 41 home runs led the minor leagues in 2021 and validated his claim as top candidate to eventually succeed Salvador Perez; young five-tool phenom Bobby Witt Jr., the organization’s No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is sure to be at third base or shortstop next Opening Day.

But Kansas City’s talent at their respective positions run deeper than Melendez and Witt. Behind Perez with Melendez are primary backup Cam Gallagher, 40-man roster member Sebastian Rivero, 2021 draft picks Carter Jensen and Luca Tresh (respectively Pipeline’s No. 20 and 24 KC prospects), and minor leaguers Kale Emshoff and Logan Porter.

The left-side infield situation is similar, with up-and-coming Maikel Garcia and Emmanuel Rivera both on KC’s 40-man, and Pipeline club prospects Nick Loftin (No. 9), Peyton Wilson (No. 11), Daniel Vasquez (No. 19) and minor league Gold Glover Michael Massey (No. 28) all working up the farm system ladder.

Those inventories are strong. Too strong, in fact, for two promising players who recently lost their Kansas City prospect status when the club allowed them to become minor league free agents.

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But catcher Meibrys Viloria and shortstop Jeison Guzman quickly found new baseball homes. Viloria, who tasted big league life in three different Kansas City seasons, signed recently with Texas and Guzman, who the Royals had on their 40-man for a considerable time, did the same with Arizona.

Meibrys Viloria served the KC Royals well, but it was time to move on.

“Prospect” might seem a misnomer for Meibrys Viloria. After all, he played 67 times for Kansas City from 2018-2020. But Viloria’s limited Royal role as an emergency backup, typically summoned only when injuries to Perez or Gallagher required adding another catcher to the major league roster, meant he remained a prospect.

Obviously comfortable in his reserve skin, Viloria was good behind the plate, where his .996 fielding percentage and 32 percent caught stealing rate both exceeded league average.

His bat was a different story. Viloria hit only .215 in 181 at-bats with the Royals, which may explain in part why the club relied on Rivero when it needed extra backup catching in 2021.

That, and the fact any real opportunity to again back up Perez remained blocked by at least Melendez and Rivero, made Viloria dispensable, something that bordered on the obvious when the organization demoted him to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in August after moving Melendez up to Triple-A.

Now Viloria, only 24, will try next with Texas. The Rangers signed him earlier this week, assigned him to Triple-A Round Rock, and invited him to spring training.

Too many KC Royals infielders made a change necessary for Jeison Guzman.

Kansas City was four years away from making Bobby Witt Jr. a first round draft selection, and Alcides Escobar was still its shortstop, when the club signed international free agent Jeison Guzman in the summer of 2015. Whether they deemed him a candidate for their shortstop of the future is unlikely, but he appeared on MLB Pipeline’s top KC prospect list as late as 2019, when he ranked 25th.

Not a defensive standout or power hitter in the minors, Guzman hit .269 when he made his professional debut with the Royals’ Arizona rookie club in 2016. Inconsistency at the plate accounts for his five-season .247/.307/.355 line, but the .289/.352/.465 he slashed in 34 games at High-A Quad Cities this season was encouraging, although he slumped to .216/.263/.328 after a mid-August promotion to Double-A.

The Royals called Guzman up to the majors in August 2020, but he didn’t play. And the glut of top-flight infielders in the organization hurt his chances to return—Adalberto Mondesi, Nicky Lopez, Whit Merrifield, Witt, Rivera, Garcia, et. al. made it increasingly unlikely he’d see Kansas City again, at least as a Royal.

Guzman now has a new shot with the Diamondbacks, with whom he signed a minor league deal late last month. He’s currently listed on Triple-A Reno’s roster.

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Former Kansas City prospects Meibrys Viloria and Jeison Guzman have signed with new organizations.