Happy New Year. With the beginning of 2018 rolling around and the Royals closing in on one month until Spring Training, we at Royals Farm Report are going to update you on the current status of the farm system: one position at a time.
To begin our official report, we’re going to start with arguably the best position in the Royals minor league system. The catching position can often be a tricky position to navigate. Most teams have at least a couple catchers that stand out defensively, but never hit enough to reach the big leagues. Luckily for Royals fans, Dayton Moore has made it a point to invest in the catching position and the Royals have some minor league depth at catcher. Let’s break ’em down.
To begin our catcher breakdown, let’s recap our prospect rankings:
5. MJ Melendez, C
Levels Played, 2017: Rookie
Acquired: 2nd Round of the 2017 MLB Draft
2017 Stats: .262/.374/.417/.790, 4 HR, 30 RBI, 8 2B, 3 3B, 4 SB, 30.3% K%, 13.1% BB%, .155 ISO, 121 wRC+, .373 wOBA, 26.4% CS%, 8.30 Range Factor
Ahhhhh. MJ Melendez. My favorite pick of the 2017 draft finally makes his debut on our prospect rankings. Unless you live under a rock (or are just new to the site which is perfectly understandable also) you are now well aware of what I think of MJ Melendez. The catching position in my opinion is both the most important and underrated position on the field. I mentioned it before in Rivero’s prospect ranking, but I love it when teams invest in young catchers. The Royals gave Melendez a significant over-slot in the 2017 draft, which ought to be telling of what they think of his future as a potential star catcher.
The scouting report on Melendez is pretty straightforward: great athlete, defensive wizard behind the plate, decent bat with developing power from the left side. If you’ve never seen video of Melendez catching, you need to, ASAP.
The kid is unbelievable behind the dish. Bias aside, Melendez is one of the better defensive prospects I’ve ever seen coming out of high school. Young catchers don’t have to be all-world hitters in order to be good prospects. MJ Melendez would be a top 20 prospect in the Royals organization based on his defense alone (see Sebastian Rivero for reference).
The best part about Melendez as an elite defensive catcher is that he has a legitimate chance of becoming an above average major league hitter as well. Here’s a look at 4 of the Royals top 5 prospects (in no particular order) and how they fared in the AZL (Hunter Dozier never played in the AZL, as he was drafted out of college):
- .269/.396/.484/.880, 6 HR, 8 SB, 9 2B, 6 3B, 182 AB
- .250/.348/.477/.825, 8 HR, 2 SB, 11 2B, 2 3B, 172 AB
- .262/.374/.417/.790, 4 HR, 4 SB, 8 2B, 3 3B, 168 AB
- .247/.330/.414/.745, 4 HR, 10 SB, 15 2B, 3 3B, 198 AB
As you can see, among the top prospects in this organization, MJ Melendez’ bat fits right in with hitters who are ranked this high strictly for their offensive prowess. Khalil Lee and Seuly Matias both project as corner outfielders and Nick Pratto is a first baseman. Those three guys are top prospects because they can hit, and MJ Melendez, thought of as a defense first catcher, performed just as well or better than some of these guys.
Melendez’ stat line appears third on that list. Khalil Lee is the first one, followed by Seuly Matias (who arguably has the most power of any prospect in the organization), with Nick Pratto finishing out the list. By most measures, Melendez had a better year offensively than Pratto in 2017, and his rookie campaign doesn’t fare much differently than Matias and Lee. Oh, and check this out, Melendez vs. 2nd overall pick Hunter Greene:
MJ Melendez is truly a once-in-a-lifetime prospect. Rarely do you come across a guy who can play elite defense behind the plate AND hit like the rest of your organization’s top prospects. For reference, former Silver Slugger Award winner Salvador Perez slugged .279 and failed to hit a HR during his time in the AZL. MJ Melendez could very well be the Royals top prospect by this time next year, and ought to have all Royals fans excited for the future at backstop in Kansas City.
Check out this piece I wrote after the draft this past summer in which I interviewed MJ’s father, Mervyl, who coaches at Florida International University.
20. Chase Vallot, C
Levels Played, 2017: High-A
Acquired: CBA Pick in the 2014 MLB Draft (40th overall)
2017 Stats: .231/.380/.438/.818, 12 HR, 37 RBI, 22 2B, 127 K, 64 BB, 35.8% K%, 18% BB%, 281 AB
The very first thing you ought to notice about Chase Vallot is his absolutely ludicrous walk rate. I mean, my goodness. To put his OBP, into reference, Eric Hosmer had a .385 OBP in 2017 but hit .318 to achieve that. Vallot’s batting average was nearly 100 points lower than Hosmer’s and he almost got on base at the same clip. The incredible ability to control the strike zone, and a growing power stroke, the 21-year old catcher has an incredibly bright future at the plate.
If Chase Vallot can stick as a catcher, he has one of the brighter futures of any prospect in the Royals system. Admittedly, looking at the rankings right now, you could make a really strong argument that deserves to be higher on this list. The problem is, and the concern that I think is fair to have with Vallot, is whether or not he can stick behind the plate. Not many catchers can hit like Vallot can, but the problem is that Vallot may be better suited as a 1B/DH in the big leagues, and there are lots of 1B/DH that can hit like him, thus decreasing his value significantly.
There’s no question about Vallot’s offensive prowess. He missed most of the 2017 season with an injury, but he also just turned 21 in August. Still really young, Vallot may be given the chance to play the entire season at AA next season as a 21-year old. Given the current pace that he’s climbing through the system, I full expect him to be in KC by the end of 2020, regardless of what position he may be playing. Staying healthy next year will be huge in the development of the Royals young catcher.
28. Meibrys Viloria, C
Levels Played, 2017: A (Lexington)
Acquired: Free Agent, Colombia
2017 Stats: 101 G, .259/.313/.394, 94 H, 25 2B, 0 3B, 8 HR, 42 R, 52 RBI, 4 SB (Lexington)
A recent addition to the 40-man roster, Meibrys Viloria might be one of the higher ceiling prospects in the organization. I love catchers that can hit and oh boy does Viloria fit that profile.
Viloria busted onto the scene as a prospect when he shredded his way to Pioneer League MVP in 2016, slashing .376/.436/.606 in 58 games for the Idaho Falls Chukars. Viloria saw his numbers dip moving up to full-season ball this year, but he still managed to put up a 105 wRC+.
Viloria’s power is still developing. He may not be putting up big home run numbers yet, but with his quick swing and strength, it isn’t hard to see him end up being a 15-20 home run bat.
I have yet to see any reasons why Viloria can’t stay behind home plate. His size and above-average athleticism make him a serviceable receiver. I saw great improvement from the throwing side of things too, as Viloria posted an impressive CS% of 40%. Obviously, he needs to stay at catcher to keep his prospect status healthy.
30. Sebastian Rivero, C
DOB: November 16, 1998
Levels Played, 2017: Rookie
Acquired: International Free Agent Signing
2017 Stats: .265/.288/.381/.669, 4 HR, 28 RBI, 8 2B, 189 AB
As a former pitcher, I am always a little higher on good catching prospects than most people probably are. If you read our site at all, you know how much I loved the MJ Melendez pick in this year’s draft. As I excited as I was for Melendez this year, I was almost equally as excited for the Rivera signing back in 2015.
I love it when teams invest in young catchers. Salvador Perez, Gary Sanchez, Buster Posey, and Willson Contreras have all either led their teams to World Series championships in recent years, or are helping lead the way in the case of Gary Sanchez. In my opinion, the catching position is one of the most underrated positions on the field in terms of overall importance. So when teams make it a priority to invest in catchers, I get giddy.
That is exactly what the Royals did when they signed Sebastian Rivero. They made a point to invest in the most important position on the field. Rivero was signed as a 17-year old for $450,000 out of Venezuela back in 2015. They signed a kid who was somewhat of a wizard with the glove and hoped that his bat would come around.
Two years later and much of this still holds true for Rivero. His .662 OPS and 4 career HR in 2 seasons leave much to be desired. The defense is the reason that you find Rivero so high on our rankings despite the less than ideal offensive numbers. Rivero threw out 29% of would be base stealers in 2017, up a tick from his 27.78% caught stealing in 2016, impressive given his movement up in the organization.
Sebastian Rivero, assuming he continues to grow as a defensive minded catcher, has a very high floor as a prospect. In my opinion, he’s Drew Butera at worst: a backup catcher with a long career in the MLB. He also has a chance to be JT Realmuto: a stout defensive catcher with a knack for getting on base. Realmuto didn’t hit much early on in his minor league career either. Rivero still has plenty of time to come around as a good-enough hitter to start in the big leagues.
36. Cam Gallagher, C
DOB: December 6, 1992
Levels Played, 2017: AAA (Omaha), MLB (Kansas City)
Acquired: 2012 MLB Draft, 2nd Round
2017 Stats (AAA only): .292/.336/.400/.736, 5 HR, 37 RBI, 13 2B, 260 AB
I can say confidently Cam Gallagher is a big league catcher. With most of his skills come on the defensive side, he’s at least got a high floor as a backup catcher. He receives the ball well behind the plate and he can gun down runners with a good-looking arm, throwing out 35% of base-stealers in Omaha this year.
This wasn’t the original profile with Gallagher though. Drafted out of Pennsylvania in the second round, many were excited about Gallagher’s bat. His development offensively has stalled though, hitting .244/.318/.349 in seven minor league seasons.
I still saw some improvements with the bat though. He took more of a contact approach this year and saw his quality of contact improve. We saw him briefly in Kansas City at the end of the season and we could be seeing more of him soon. Look for him to be a backup catcher in the big leagues soon.
60. Nick Dini, C
Levels Played, 2017: A (Lexington), AA (Northwest Arkansas)
Acquired: 2015 MLB Draft, 14th Round
2017 Stats: 64 G, .310/.381/.380, 67 H, 9 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 22 R, 25 RBI, 8 SB (Northwest Arkansas), 24 G, .283/.323/.457, 26 H, 10 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 19 R, 11 RBI, 2 SB (Lexington)
A 5’8″ catcher isn’t something you see everyday. The Royals 2015 14th round pick makes it work though, putting up tremendous numbers in his first three seasons. This is even more impressive considering the fact that he was supposed to spend most of the season in Lexington. But a need for catcher popped up in Northwest Arkansas and Dini did more than fill in, slashing .310/.381/.380.
Above-average defensively too (has thrown out 35% of runners in his career), Dini could make a serviceable backup catcher in the bigs.
So there ya have it, a list of the prospects that Kansas City has available at catcher. You’ll read more about the other positions soon, but the catching position is almost certainly the deepest as far as top-end talent goes in the Royals organization.
The Royals have three catchers in their system with the chance to be good, every day catchers in the big leagues: MJ Melendez, Chase Vallot, and Meibrys Viloria. These three players all come with their own strengths as well. Melendez is the best defender of the bunch, Vallot the best hitter, and Viloria’s a bit of a combination of both.
The Royals also have some catching options with decent chances to stay on big league rosters as backups, and one already has. Sebastian Rivero is a defensive wizard out of Venezuela whose defense will carry him a long way in his professional career. Cam Gallagher is a bit of a do-it-all catcher who made his big league debut last year in Kansas City and performed well. He’ll be KC’s permanent backup to Salvy when Drew Butera’s contract is up.
The Royals are also blessed to have some above average organizational depth at catcher in the form of Parker Morin, Nick Dini, and Alan de San Miguel. Nick Dini is a guy that I really like as a grinder and someone who may be able to flat out work his way to the big leagues. At this point in his career it seems unlikely, but he’s a great kid with a decent bat who performed well in the Arizona Fall League last year.
Like I’ve said before, this may be the deepest position in the Royals system. Yes, the Royals have 4-5 outfield prospects that would outrank the catchers, but there’s 3 outfield positions on the field and only one catcher. In my opinion, the catcher is the most under appreciated player on the field. Every single pitch involves the catcher and only the pitcher can also say that. It’s a position that the Royals have made a point to invest in and they have done so swimmingly. Salvador Perez’ contract will be up at the end of the 2021 season, but the Royals need not worry. They have a few candidates that appear to be capable of filling in for the Royals backstop, and the future looks to be in good hands.