Royals

Royals turn to inexperienced duo of Cam Gallagher, Meibrys Viloria as catcher options

Royals manager Ned Yost: Meibrys Viloria won’t be overwhelmed

The Royals could be without catcher Salvador Perez for the 2019 season, and Cam Gallagher could take over. Royals manager Ned Yost, speaking at the team facility in Arizona, discussed the readiness of Meibrys Viloria to play catcher in the majors.
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The Royals could be without catcher Salvador Perez for the 2019 season, and Cam Gallagher could take over. Royals manager Ned Yost, speaking at the team facility in Arizona, discussed the readiness of Meibrys Viloria to play catcher in the majors.

The Royals were planning to give catcher Cam Gallagher his chance in the big leagues this season. They weren’t planning on that chance coming as their primary catcher.

Depending on the second opinion Salvador Perez receives on Tuesday in Los Angeles, Gallagher may become the Royals’ everyday starter behind the plate.

Friday, the club announced that Perez has ligament damage in his throwing elbow that could require season-ending surgery. A day later, general manager Dayton Moore identified two in-house options in Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria as the candidates to fill in for Perez. The two have played 45 major-league games combined.

“I’ve just got to always be prepared for whatever is thrown at me,” Gallagher said. “It’s unfortunate losing one of our best players and one of our best offensive and defensive players, but, you know, next man up. You’ve got to step up. If he’s going to miss the rest of the season, I’ve got to be prepared for it. You’ve got to be prepared at all times. Nothing really changes.”

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Perez, who batted in the cleanup spot in 76 games last season, hit 27 home runs and had 80 RBIs while batting .235 with a .274 on-base percentage and a .439 slugging percentage. He’s hit 20 home runs or more in each of the past four seasons, and he’s also won the AL Gold Glove five times in the past six seasons.

“We’ve got a lot of good (catchers) in this room,” Gallagher said. “We’re going to be all prepared. We’re going to keep working our butts off. It’s going to be impossible to fill Salvy’s shoes, but we’re going to do our best.”

Gallagher, 26, is a former second-round pick (2011) out of Lancaster, Pa. He’s batted .218 with a .274 on-base percentage and .333 slugging percentage in 35 games in the majors. He had hit .247 in eight seasons in the minors.

He’s enjoyed success at the late against left-handed pitchers. Last season, he batted .328 against lefties at Class AAA and he batted .388 against lefties in 2017 at Class AAA.

“We’re fortunate to have two really good young catchers that have tremendous upside,” Moore said. “Cam Gallagher is somebody that can really receive. We feel highly confident with his ability back there to receive and call a game.”

MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported that the Royals had reached out veteran free-agent catcher Martin Maldonado on Friday, but Moore said on Saturday his preference would be to go forward with Gallagher and Viloria and look to add “depth” at the position as opposed to searching for a potential starter on the free-agent market.

Gallagher entered camp slated for the major-league backup job, while Viloria would’ve ideally began the season at either Double-A or Triple-A.

“Yesterday at this time you had two catchers that were going to be backups,” Moore said. “Now, they know lights are on. Let’s go. It’s yours. It’s a different mindset.”

Viloria played 10 games with the big-league club at the end of last season after being called up from High-A Wilmington. The 22-year-old native of Colombia was named one of the Rising Stars of the Arizona Fall League in 2018.

“He is one of those players that he’s got no fear whatsoever,” Royals minor-league catching coordinator J.C. Boscan said earlier in the week.

Boscan, who played 19 professional seasons as a catcher, oversees the development of the organization’s minor-league catchers, visits the various minor league affiliates and tracks the catcher’s progress throughout the year.

“You see aggressiveness,” Boscan said of Viloria. “You see handle the bat. You see him throwing the ball. You see him picking people off on first, third, second. That guy has no fear, and that makes his ability look better. As managers, as coaches, as coordinators, instructors, that’s what we want to see from a player. We want to see that aggressiveness.”

Viloria impressed Royals manager Ned Yost with how he handled the jump from High-A to the majors late last season.

“What I liked the most about Viloria was he wasn’t overwhelmed by the situation,” Yost said. “He’s a kid coming out of A-ball, came to the big leagues and completely held his own, offensively, defensively. I don’t care what he does offensively. Just handle the pitching staff, and he did that really well, handled the pitching staff, blocked balls, received well, threw well.”

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.
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