The MLBDiamond Spring Training Primer continues with a preview of the Royals catchers. Read our preview of the Royals rotation here.
The Royals have a strong amount of depth and upside at a position where much of the league has neither: catcher. Kansas City has drafted well at the position in recent years and of course, boasts one of the best at the position in the entire major leagues in Salvador Perez. This depth has allowed the Royals to adjust to how the position is utilized and get even more production from their backstops.
Who will man the dish for the Royals in 2022?
Perhaps the biggest lock on the entire Royals roster is veteran Salvador Perez. The former World Series MVP tied the Royals’ single-season Home Run record in 2021 when he led the Majors with 48 bombs. Those 48 dingers were the most in MLB history by a primary catcher. In the last two seasons, Perez has combined to hit .284/.323/.561 with 59 home runs and 153 RBI. Last season saw Perez tally the most time at DH in his entire career. He started 40 games as a DH for the Royals. From 2013 to 2016, Perez averaged 1,165 innings per season behind the dish. In 2021, that total was down at just over 1000 innings. The Royals’ decision (and capability) to reduce Perez’s workload behind the plate has allowed him to improve his power output at the plate and once again hit for average as we saw very early in his career. Don’t expect that to change this year.
2022 ZIPS Projection: 139 G, 574 PA, .260/.300/.494, 34 HR, 110 wRC+
The Royals backup catcher from 2021 is set to return in 2022. Gallagher enters his age-29 season after appearing in 48 games last season, a career-high. He was worth 0.5 bWAR in those games. He hit just .250/.298/.330 last season. His true value comes in his fielding ability. Through just 308 innings last season, Gallagher accounted for six Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Perez, in reference, was worth a negative five. If Gallagher remains a Royal, he figures to fill the same role as we saw last season. I say “if” because the chance that Gallagher is traded this season figures to be very high. Veteran catchers who can hit league average and play outstanding defense behind the plate are a valuable asset in the MLB. Gallagher fits that mold and should return the Royals solid value for his services. The next player on our list should make it easier for the Royals should they trade Gallagher.
2022 ZIPS Projection: 58 G, 180 PA, .250/.303/.360, 3 HR, 81 wRC+
MJ Melendez was a second-round selection by the Royals in the 2017 MLB Draft. After a down season in the minors in 2019, Melendez had fallen off the prospect scene entirely. Melendez posted a .571 OPS in a full season’s work at High-A Wilmington in 2019. A resurgence in 2021 has him back in the fold. Melendez now ranks as MLB.com’s #51 overall prospect. In 2021 across AA and AAA he hit .288/.386/.625 and led the entire minor leagues with 41 home runs. Behind the dish, Melendez features a cannon for an arm. Fangraphs grades Melendez a 50-grade fielder and he carries a 60-grade arm. His defense today would likely be an upgrade over the veteran Perez, if only due to his framing skills. The bat has become a tool that the Royals can no longer ignore. The Royals have utilized Melendez at third base more and more since late last season. He figures to make the major league roster sometime this season for certain.
2022 ZIPS Projections: 123 G, 517 PA, .243/.311/.441, 21 HR, 102 wRC+
Rivero is an interesting prospect for the Royals catchers grouping. He is a 23-year old prospect, formerly an international free agent signing out of Venezuela by the Royals in 2015. Rivero made his way all the way to the Major League roster in 2021, appearing in 17 games. Results at the plate weren’t encouraging, where he posted a .175/.250/.225 batting line. In Omaha, results were somewhat more encouraging. There, Rivero hit .260 over 163 plate appearances. As a fielder, the sample size was small but Rivero posted slightly below-league average fielding ability last season. He should start his season in AAA Omaha but is definitely a name to watch for depth, especially if the Royals look to trade veteran Cam Gallagher this season.
2022 ZIPS Projections: 72 G, 251 PA, .216/.268/.323, 4 HR, 59 wRC+
Organizational Depth for Royals Catchers
The Royals carry plenty of organizational depth at the catcher position as well, although it doesn’t figure to factor into the Major League roster in 2022. Kale Emshoff, a 23-year old prospect, was one of the Royals’ undrafted signees after the 2020 MLB Draft. Worth noting, the MLB Draft that season was shortened due to COVID, and many prospects that would have normally been drafted went undrafted. Emshoff was one of the best available undrafted signees available league-wide. Last season, Emshoff appeared in 63 games between A and High-A. He posted a robust .378 on-base percentage and hit 10 home runs.
Luca Tresh was a 17th round pick by the Royals in the 2021 MLB Draft. Tresh joined the Royals catchers tribe and only appeared in 16 games for the Royals last year in his first season with the organization. At NC State, over three seasons, he slugged .512 over three seasons.
Fellow 2021 draftee, Carter Jensen, is a local product from Kansas City. Jensen joins a solid list of Royals catchers in the organization. He was selected in the third round by the Royals in last year’s draft. Jensen is just 17 and chose to sign with the Royals and forego College ball. In a small sample last year (just 19 games in the Rookie League) Jensen hit .281/.388/.404 with a 14% walk rate.
The depth at Kansas City at the catcher position is a General Manager’s dream. Not only is the team set up nicely today, with an elite veteran in his prime, but the future is also strong with a Top-100 prospect in the wings and a couple of others with potential as well.