Kansas City Royals

Royals impressed by Meibrys Viloria’s potential behind the plate

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 have the good fortune of having one of the best catchers in baseball in Salvador Perez, an elite two-way player. They also boast one of the game’s top catching prospects in Class A Wilmington’s M.J. Melendez.

There’s also a young talented catcher currently with the big club named Meibrys Viloria who the Royals believe can grow into an everyday player. He got his feet wet in the majors last season as a September callup.

In July, after the Royals traded Martin Maldonado to the Chicago Cubs, Viloria was called up again.

This time, they weren’t going to let him dip his toes in the water. The Royals threw the youngster in the deep, and he’s done more than tread water thus far. He has basically split the everyday catching duties with Cam Gallagher.

Viloria hit his first major-league home run Monday night at Fenway Park, a memorable moment in a storied venue. He also went 2-for-4 with 2 RBI in Wednesday night’s suspended game against the Red Sox. Encouraging signs because his bat needed time to come around against Double-A pitching early this season.

“At the start of the season, I was struggling,” Viloria said. “I was looking at my video, talking with my hitting coach. He helped me a lot. I was working in the cage every day.”

Viloria’s struggles included a .123 batting average with eight hits and 23 strikeouts through April. His numbers climbed in May. He posted a .435/.469/.587 slash line in June and struck out just five times in 13 games. In 10 July games, he posted a slash line of .308/.341/.436.

“We didn’t make any changes,” Viloria said. “The only problem was my timing. I was a little bit late.”

Viloria’s swing mechanics include a leg kick that’s crucial to his timing. Once he got that in sync, results followed.

His first and most important job as a catcher will always be handling the pitching staff. That’s where he has made his biggest strides since being called up, the behind-the-scenes work that makes or breaks a big-league catcher.

“He’s an impressive kid,” Royals quality control and catching coach Pedro Grifol said. “He’s smart. He wants it. He’s fearless, completely fearless. That’s probably why he’s improving at such a fast rate. So I’m expecting good things from him.”

Decisions

Last September, Viloria made a huge jump to the majors from A-ball. The Royals didn’t overwhelm him. He played 10 games and held his own. He showed the athleticism and skill behind the plate that had intrigued the team’s minor-league and player-development staff.

This year, he spent the majority of spring training in big-league camp and then served as the primary catcher at Double-A Northwest Arkansas during the regular season. When called up to the majors, Grifol wanted Viloria to take on all the responsibilities of a big-league catcher.

That meant studying opposing lineups, having a detailed knowledge of each member of the Royals pitching staff as well as being able to develop a game plan for each outing and adjust on the fly.

“It’s not just sit in the room with the starting pitcher and the pitching coach and they tell you what to do,” Grifol said. “During the game, you’re going to have to make adjustments. You have to know the hitter. You have to be able to read swings. You have to know the situation, know what’s happening with the pitcher, know his strengths and weaknesses, know pitches that he can get back in the count with, know pitches that he can put away hitters with.”

Grifol pointed to Viloria’s work with the BATS system, the video and scouting computer database, as one of the areas he’s made the biggest strides and continues to improve daily. It has shown in his pregame preparation and communication in meetings with the pitchers.

Grifol has demanded Viloria go into every game with his own scouting report, a report he takes into the pregame meeting with the starting pitcher and pitching coach as they collectively formulate a plan of attack.

Once the game starts, whether they stick to the plan of veer from it, Viloria knows Grifol will require one thing above all else. There has to be a clear reason for every pitch he called. The thought process must be there. No excuses. No guesses. No throwing stuff against the wall and hoping it sticks.

“I told him this the other day, ‘Remember this, there’s only two people on that field that make as many decisions as you and the pitcher make anywhere in this stadium,’” Grifol said. “The pitcher and the catcher have to make a decision on what to throw 160, 170 times. Really, the catcher more than the pitcher because the pitcher won’t go the whole game. If you’re going to make 170 decisions a day, then you have to be prepared.”

Earning trust

Viloria was in the middle of a heated one-way exchange with now former Royals reliever Wily Peralta during a game in Cleveland. Peralta downplayed the exchange afterwards as trouble communicating the signs and Peralta yelling to be heard over the crowd.

The Peralta incident aside, Viloria has drawn praise from the pitching staff for his work behind the plate. He caught Brad Keller’s lights-out, seven scoreless inning outing in Atlanta as well as Jakob Junis’ start on Tuesday in which he allowed one run in six innings.

“I’ll match him up with anybody we got,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Viloria. “By that I mean any pitcher we have on our team. Normally, you want to save the more veteran guy for your better pitchers.”

Yost believes Viloria can become an everyday big-league catcher. Viloria is just 22, and Baseball America ranked him the 14th-best prospect in the Royals system after last season and the 16th-best in the Carolina League.

Last season in the minors, he threw out 41% of baserunners. This year, he’d thrown out 30%. Going into Wednesday, he’d been 2 of 4 on catching runners attempting to steal since being recalled to the majors.

“It’s the total package,” Yost said. “It’s just who he is. It’s his skill level. Everybody is different, but he’s a kid that was in A-ball last year and you’re thinking, OK, he’s going to have issues. Whatever his issues are, we’re going to have to work on them and develop them.

“Well, I ain’t seen any major issues from last year to this year.”

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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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