Salvador Perez has started the past three All-Star Games behind the plate for the American League, and the Royals have more catching talent on the way.
Kansas City has high hopes for Chase Vallot, a supplemental first-round pick from the 2014 Draft, and Meibrys Viloria, the Rookie-level Pioneer League MVP Award winner this summer. They're two of the 74 players who reported to the Royals' instructional league program in Surprise, Ariz., which began on Sept. 18 and will run through Oct. 14. They'll field two rosters, one for more advanced players, when they begin playing games against other organizations on Monday.
Royals Top 30 prospects at instructs
Vallot, Viloria and Xavier Fernandez will handle the catching chores for the advanced squad. Kansas City farm director Ronnie Richardson said the focus will be receiving, blocking and game-calling -- "all those intricacies that it takes to be a special catcher like Salvador Perez."
Vallot is coming off the best offensive season of his three-year pro career after batting .235/.356/.454 with 15 homers in 92 games, mostly at low Class A Lexington. His defense is more of a work in progress, as he threw out 26 percent of basestealers and committed 17 passed balls in 58 games behind the plate. Vallot lost some valuable development time in June when he missed two weeks after getting banged up in a home-plate collision, then two more when he got hit in the face by a pitch in his first game back.
"Vallot is good to go and he's all pumped up," Richardson said. "He's running around all over the place. He's one of the leaders of this program. He's been here before and he helps set the tone for the other players."
Viloria has raised his profile considerably after going through the entire 2015 season without an extra-base hit in 45 games. This year, he led the Pioneer League in hitting (.376), doubles (28) and RBIs (55), while also homering six times in 58 contests. Viloria erased 34 percent of basestealers and had eight passed balls in 50 games as a catcher.
"Viloria had a phenomenal season," Richardson said. "He'll work with our catching coordinator to improve his overall catching, his game-calling, his approach to the game, increase his knowledge of the game. He's really exciting."
At 19, Viloria is the second-youngest player on the Royals' advanced instructional league roster. There are four 17-year-olds on the second roster, including one who might have the highest ceiling among the system's position prospects.
International signee Matias "a special young talent"
Outfielder Seuly Matias' all-around tools earned him a $2.25 million bonus when he signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2015. He spent most of his pro debut this summer in the Rookie-level Arizona League, which he led with eight homers while batting .250/.348/.477 in 46 games. Matias' youth shows at times -- he also topped the AZL with 73 strikeouts -- but he has electric bat speed and no glaring weakness.
"Matias is a special young talent," Richardson said. "You see the way he runs, the way he throws, the power he possesses, and his upside is very high. He's going to work with our hitting coordinator on his overall approach."
Lee among 19 from 2016 Draft in Surprise
Nineteen members of Kansas City's 2016 Draft class are in Surprise, a contingent highlighted by another young outfielder. Though some organizations thought 18-year-old Khalil Lee had a brighter future as a left-hander who can hit 94 mph with his fastball, the Royals made Gatorade's Virginia high school player of the year a full-time hitter after signing him for $750,000 in the third round.
That looks like a prescient decision after Lee batted .269/.396/.484 with six homers and eight steals in 49 AZL games, alternating between center and right field with Matias.
"Lee is a great athlete and a great person -- he's a very intelligent ballplayer," Richardson said. "He has good plate discipline as well as speed and power, and he can play the outfield and throw. He'll continue to stick with his approach, get a lot of at-bats, work on the finer points of the game, just continue doing what he did."
Top pitching prospects, sleepers and Almonte
Kansas City has a number of its better pitching prospects in instructional league, including right-handers Scott Blewett and Nolan Watson, and left-hander Garrett Davila. The club also has some interesting mound sleepers, such as pitchability lefty Cristian Castillo, the Rookie-level Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year, and live-armed righty Franco Terrero.
While the ultimate goal of all the players on hand is to reach the big leagues, one of them already has done so. Right-hander Miguel Almonte earned a World Series ring as a September callup in 2015 before enduring a rough '16. Not only did he not rejoin the Royals, he got demoted from Triple-A to Double-A and the rotation to the bullpen as his command regressed.
"Almonte is going to work on a couple of things with his delivery," Richardson said. "There are some mechanical things he really embraced at the Double-A level. Instructional league gives him a platform for more time to work on those before he pitches in winter ball."