Royals ask Frank Schwindel to go back to his roots as a catcher

Royals OF Alex Gordon on Salvador Perez missing all of 2019: ‘It’s a big blow to us’

Royals veteran left fielder Alex Gordon discusses how the team will replace the presence of Salvador Perez after the news that the All-Star catcher will have elbow surgery, ending his 2019 season.
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Royals veteran left fielder Alex Gordon discusses how the team will replace the presence of Salvador Perez after the news that the All-Star catcher will have elbow surgery, ending his 2019 season.

The loss of Salvador Perez for the season doesn’t just leave the Royals without one of the best defensive catchers in the game, but it also takes away the biggest and most proven power source in the middle of their lineup.

Perez, a two-time Silver Slugger, registered 70 RBIs or more in five of the past six games. He has also hit 20 home runs or more in each of the past four seasons. Last season he led the Royals in both RBIs (80) and homers (27).

One of the possible options the Royals could turn to in order to mitigate the loss of Perez’s bat has been in the major-league clubhouse since the start of full squad workouts. Frank Schwindel, one of the most successful minor-league hitters in their farm system, has been with the club as a non-roster invitee as a first baseman.

“Will we miss Salvy’s bat? Yeah, it’s a big bat,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “That’s realistically 25 homers and 80 RBIs. That’s a lot of production to pick up, but we’ll look to try to pick it up.”

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Shortly after the Royals got the initial diagnosis on Perez’s elbow injury, Yost and catching coach/quality control coach Pedro Grifol told Schwindel to get some catching gear and start knocking off whatever rust he’d built up from not being behind the plate regularly in a couple years.

“He’s caught before,” Yost said. “That’s why when this happened it was like ‘Let’s take a look at Schwindel,’ and he can catch the ball and receives the ball fine.”

Yost said Schwindel would likely catch in a spring training game sooner rather than later.

The back-to-back player of the year for the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers, Schwindel was also the Royals organization’s minor-league hitter of the year in 2017.

Last season, he set a team single-season record with 38 doubles last season to go along with a career-high 24 homers and 93 RBIs while batting .286 with a .336 on-base percentage and a .506 slugging percentage. He ranked among Pacific Coast League leaders in doubles (second), hits (third, 146) and RBIs (fourth).

Schwindel, a former 18th-round draft pick in 2013, still waits for the chance to make his major-league debut. If playing catcher or third base or serving as a bat off the bench gets him to the majors, Schwindel will fill any role needed.

“You never know when you might need it,” Schwindel said of returning to his catching roots. “Now, I’m trying to — obviously not fill Salvy’s spot — but they’ve got to find a bat somewhere to make up for those 30 homers and 80-something RBIs he knocks in every year. So, you know, I’ll do anything, bat off the bench, emergency guy, whatever.”

Schwindel caught exclusively in high school in New Jersey as well as his freshman year at St. John’s and he caught part of his first professional season in rookie ball (27 games) in 2013 as well as in Low-A Lexington (38 games) in 2014.

He caught just four games in 2015, but he continued to work on catching in the offseason and in spring training. In 2016, he caught daily in spring camp including going through drills and having caught bullpens. He also caught a few bullpens in Omaha last year after Cam Gallagher got called up to the majors.

Schwindel doesn’t pretend to have a widespread familiarity with the pitching staff. He’s only a few days into his quest to become reacquainted with his former position.

“As a first baseman, we’re doing a lot of defensive alignments,” Schwindel said. “I’m always looking at the hitters tendencies, all those sheets. Who’s a pull guy? Who’s a ground ball? Oppo? In the air? Stuff like that. So you try and pick up that. Then, in case you ever go on the game behind the plate, you kind of have an idea of the hitter and what you’re trying to do to attack them.”

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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.