Wilson's 'backup' experience a boon to Royals

New bullpen coach quickly rose up coaching ranks in KC system

November 14th, 2017
Vance Wilson managed at Double-A Northwest Arkansas the past four seasons. (Getty)

KANSAS CITY -- Not many backup catchers in the history of baseball can say they played behind not one but two Hall of Famers.

New Royals bullpen coach Vance Wilson can make that claim. Wilson played parts of eight seasons in the big leagues, serving behind Mets catcher Mike Piazza and Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

"I look back at catching behind those guys and the most amazing thing to me was watching those guys play every single day," Wilson said by phone. "They were getting beat up every day, they had the ups and downs of offense. But they were the face of the franchise and felt they couldn't let anyone down.

"Just watching them go about their business every day taught me how to watch guys while I managed and observe how my guys played every day. There was no letup with [Piazza and Rodriguez]. That's how you play this game."

Wilson, 44, was a part of the 2006 Tigers' American League championship team. He finished his career on a Minor League deal with the Royals in '09 before turning to coaching.

Wilson rose up the managerial ranks in the Royals' system quickly. He spent the past four seasons managing Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and the Naturals made it to the Texas League Championship Series in 2015 and '16.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore calls Wilson a coach with many talents who should be a positive influence as Kansas City goes through a transitional period at the big league level with younger players.

What does Wilson think he brings to the table?

"You have to be accountable, be prepared, as a coach and player," Wilson said. "The biggest thing I bring is the well-roundedness of being able to develop players, not only for their own benefit but also in terms of winning championships.

"I have been part of some winning cultures, at the Major League level and the Minor League level. I think that could help."

Several of the current Royals -- right-hander Jakob Junis, shortstop , right-fielder , third baseman and second baseman Whit Merrifield -- played under Wilson.

"When you've had those players and all of a sudden they've gotten to the big leagues, it feels good," Wilson said. "It's not that hard to get to the big leagues, it's harder to stay. Being that I had those guys, most for multiple years, they know about accountability. They know you have to get better every day.

"For me, it's important that I did what I did in the big leagues. I want them to experience what I experienced. The game has been so good to me and my family, and I want them to stick in the Major Leagues."