For parts of two major league seasons, KC Royals catcher Sebastian Rivero has watched big league games from the most coveted spot in Kauffman Stadium. His seat in the dugout earned, not purchased, he follows the action on the field with a vested interest.
The Royals pay Rivero to sit in the dugout and pay close attention to everything unfolding on the field before him. He must know, from pitch to pitch, all that happens and might happen. He’s a backup catcher, the backstop most likely to replace Salvador Perez if anything forces Perez out of the game when MJ Melendez, Perez’s current heir apparent, is already in the game in the outfield or at DH.
Rivero is in all respects a major leaguer. But his everyday job is more to be ready to play than it is to play.
Will that job be his next season?
Expect backup catcher Sebastian Rivero to return to the KC Royals in 2023.
While some teams carried two and others three, Kansas City kept three catchers on their roster much of the 2022 season, a decision necessitated by Perez’s welcome and invaluable presence. Only his inevitable, but fortunately not imminent, shift to DH will displace the seven-time All-Star from his starting role behind the plate, Melendez typically catches when Perez needs a day off or DH’s, and the Royals need a third catcher because a couple of things might happen.
First, of course, is an in-game injury to Perez, whose ailing thumb forced him to the Injured List twice in 2022, necessitated in-season surgery, and sidelined him for the final four games of the campaign. With only two catchers—Perez and Melendez—on the roster, and Melendez in the outfield where the club is clearly interested in him playing regularly, Melendez would have to move behind the plate, forcing whoever replaces former manager Mike Matheny to use a reserve he might have preferred to utilize later in the game (or not at all).
Perez leaving with an injury while Melendez is the DH would be worse. Without a third backstop, that scenario requires Melendez to catch, the Royals to lose the DH, and their pitchers to bat.
So at least for now, KC will remain a three-catcher club. And at least early in the 2023 season, look for Rivero to be the third. The Royals obviously trust him to fill that role—for two years, he’s been their first choice to call up from the minors when they need a backup. He seems to handle the team’s pitchers well and, although the sample size is small, his career rate of throwing out would-be base stealers is slightly better than league average.
His bat, however, doesn’t, and may never, make much noise. He’s 11-for-66 (.167) in 34 big league games and owns a .247 six-season minor league average. But backup catchers aren’t paid to hit.
Is there any chance Sebastian Rivero won’t be back with the KC Royals?
Only two things might change the fact Rivero is the favorite for the third catcher’s spot on Kansas City’s Opening Day roster.
First is his Rule 5 Draft status. Should the Royals fail to protect Rivero by retaining him on their 40-man roster, any team can draft him away. Rivero being drafted seems unlikely but could happen, which gives the club a tough choice to make.
Second is the state of KC’s catching prospects. Carter Jensen, Luca Tresh, and Hayden Dunhurst, ranked 13th, 15th and 29th among MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Kansas City prospects, aren’t big league-ready, but Freddy Fermín belted 15 homers and slashed .270/.365/.480 in 87 games at Triple-A Omaha; he also played three games for the Royals. And Logan Porter, who spent most of his time at first base this season, can also catch and clubbed 13 home runs and slashed .301/.442/.476 between Omaha and Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
Whether the club gives Fermín or Porter a shot at Kansas City’s third catching spot to begin the season remains to be seen, but the Royals probably won’t be eager to have either sitting on the bench.
Look for Sebastian Rivero in Kansas City next season.