Melendez, Rivero and Viloria. The Royals have several quality prospects at catcher but those are the three expected to be the best of the bunch. Those three are all projected to play in the major leagues. Viloria has already done that with a call-up last season after Drew Butera was traded. If Perez does miss the entire 2019 season there is a good chance that Viloria could spend more time in the major leagues in 2020.
Meibrys Viloria is a 22-year old from Colombia who the Royals signed in 2013. After spending his first few years in the Royals’ system playing rookie ball, Viloria moved to Single-A Lexington in 2017. After hitting for a .707 OPS in 101 games in Lexington in 2017, Viloria moved to advanced Single-A in Wilmington to start 2018. While in Wilmington, Viloria hit for a .702 OPS in 100 games before being called up to the major league club. Viloria got the call to Kansas City because he was on the 40-man roster. Along with Cam Gallagher they were the only two healthy catchers on the 40-man roster after Salvador Perez was injured and Drew Butera was traded in 2018. Viloria was 7-for-27 in his first stint with the major league club. He appeared in ten games for the Royals and hit for a .619 OPS with a .286 on base percentage.
Viloria has been described as having a plus arm. Ned Yost has said that based on what he had seen from Viloria prior to his call-up, Viloria can catch and throw. He also has heard Viloria compared to Chicago Cubs’ catcher Wilson Contreras.
From what I’ve seen in the little bit I’ve seen in Spring Training, he can catch and throw,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “[Catching coach] Pedro Grifol worked in depth with him in spring. Pedro said [Virolia] will remind you a little bit of [Wilson] Contreras in Chicago. So I’m anxious to see.Ned Yost in a quote recorded by Jeffrey Flanagan in September, 2018
If Salvador Perez does in fact miss all of the 2019 season, Meibrys Viloria very well could see time in the majors unless the Royals decide to sign a backup catcher for Cam Gallagher to let Viloria get consistent work in the minor leagues. If Viloria does not stay in the major leagues he will be either at Double-A or Triple-A.
Sebastian Rivero turned 20 in November last year. The Royals signed Rivero as an international free agent in 2015 out of Venezuela. Rivero spent 2016 and 2017 in rookie ball before moving to Lexington for 2018. In 77 games for Lexington last year, Rivero hit for a .692 OPS in 279 at bats.
Rivero is considered further along with his defense than he is with his offense.
Sebastian’s gift is receiving and calling a game and developing a relationship with the pitchers.J.J. Picollo
Rivero and MJ Melendez spent 2018 together in Lexington pushing each other to get better. Rivero was pushed to get better offensively seeing Melendez and Rivero pushed Melendez to get better on defense. In a recent interview Royals Assistant GM J.J. Picollo said that Rivero and Melendez could play on the same minor league team again in 2019.
MJ Melendez also turned 20 last November like Rivero. Melendez was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft. Melendez’s dad is the head baseball coach at Florida International University. Melendez passed up an opportunity to play for his dad when he decided to sign with the Royals for a $2 million bonus.
MJ offensively has huge potential. He could be a middle of the lineup guy and defensively he has gold glove qualities. … He can really throw. He can really block.J.J. Picollo
Melendez played rookie ball in 2017 before moving up to Single-A in 2018. While playing for Lexington in 2018, Melendez hit for an .814 OPS with 19 home runs and 73 RBI in 419 at bats in 111 games.
The way the game is going, everyone’s [so] on about hitting, hitting, hitting that defense can get overlooked,” he said. “That goes for catchers as well. I know I need to be a defensive-first catcher, even if it that sometimes gets lost in a game. My first thought is being the best possible defender I can be when it comes to framing, blocking, footwork, all that, and then I’ll focus on hitting when I can. But defense is what will carry me.”MJ Melendez recorded by Sam Dykstra for MiLB.com
Listen to J.J. Picollo discuss the Royals’ catching depth below.
Melendez, Rivero and Viloria are not the only catchers in the Royals’ system right now. We are all familiar with Cam Gallagher. He has to be the favorite to catch the majority of the games at the major league level in 2019 if Salvador Perez misses the season. I expect that we will hear Perez is out for the season sometime this week. Gallagher is 26 and has average a .671 OPS in six full minor league seasons along with parts of two other seasons.
Nathan Esposito (25) and Nick Dini (25) are other options the Royals have but with Melendez, Rivero and Viloria, it’s hard to see how either of these guys will get their chance in the Royals’ organization. They are already 25 so they would have to make an impact soon. They are probably going to be organizational catchers until they reach minor league free agency or are included in a trade.
If things go as expected, MJ Melendez is the Royals’ catcher of the future. He has the ability to hit in the middle of the order and his defense is improving and projects to have the skill to possibly win a gold glove at some point. Melendez is expected to reach the majors in 2021 right when the Royals are planning to make their next push for a World Series.