Mejia impresses Matheny with his versatility

July 16th, 2020

KANSAS CITY -- Super utility prospect Erick Mejia continues to make a strong bid to crack the Royals' 30-man roster.

Actually, Mejia, a switch-hitting 25-year-old, put himself in the conversation for the 26-man roster even before Spring Training began.

“He made a great bid even before we got to Spring Training,” manager Mike Matheny said. “If you’re talking a 26th man and what that should look like, I know universally -- and in talking to other managers during the winter -- everyone said, ‘That is a versatile guy.’

“I’ve said this a number of times -- it doesn’t get any more versatile than what Erick brings to the table.”

Mejia already has made some brilliant defensive plays at third base. He’s also capable of playing second base, shortstop and the outfield.

And there’s one other position Matheny has implored Mejia to explore.

“I’ve mentioned to him not long ago, ‘It probably wouldn’t hurt to have a thumb guard made up so you can catch a bullpen,’” Matheny said. “And that’s just an honest conversation. I remember having the same conversation with [Royals coach] John Mabry [in St. Louis] when it was going to come right down to the 25th man for him. Why not? When it’s close and you can be an emergency catcher, it could be a tie-breaker.”

Mejia’s versatility essentially could save Matheny a roster spot that otherwise would have to be devoted to a backup infielder or outfielder. Mejia can play virtually anywhere, just like Whit Merrifield.

“That’s something we’ve thought about more often than we have been,” Matheny said. “It’s, ‘How can we have someone to cover a position that won’t take a full roster spot, someone who is versatile?’ And in terms of catching, it’s something Erick jumped all over. He said, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ And that was the perfect answer.

“We know he can work the outfield. We know how smooth he is in the infield. He just does a lot of things right.”

Viloria is back

As Matheny did on Tuesday before Salvador Perez was activated from the injured list, he suggested again that a player was getting close to being activated -- this time potential backup catcher Meibrys Viloria.

Viloria, who has been on the IL since camp opened, has not officially been activated, but he was back in uniform on Wednesday night.

The Royals are still missing catcher Cam Gallagher (COVID-19), but now they at least have two catchers (Perez and Viloria) who are either active or close to it.

Piped-in crowd noise

For the first time in intrasquad games, the Royals had artificial crowd noise piped into the stadium.

“It was a little rough at first,” Matheny said, “but once they got the decibels adjusted, I thought it was helpful. I’m not sure about the crowd noise rising with certain plays, and they’re asking for feedback.

“But the main thing, the players could talk in the dugout without everyone hearing them.”

Will Sparkman return to rotation?

Right-hander Glenn Sparkman, a starter in 2019, was moved to the bullpen in Spring Training by Matheny and his staff in an effort to allow him to expend maximum effort in shorter bursts.

And the move worked, as Sparkman regularly hit 96 mph on the radar gun.

But with right-hander Brad Keller still isolated after testing positive for COVID-19, Matheny potentially will need a fourth and fifth starter soon. The Royals don’t have their first off-day until Aug. 10.

“We talked early on about shortening it up and letting it eat and [seeing] what it looks like," he said. "But when you start to talk about our needs in a starting pitcher, what guys have that ability to be stretched out if we need them, Glenn Sparkman is going to be one of those.”

Other candidates include Jorge Lopez, Brady Singer and Foster Griffin.