Around the horn: Perez a steady presence at catcher

January 5th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals made several additions to their roster that will have them looking quite different in 2024.

As Spring Training gets nearer, we will use at least one newsletter a week to go around the horn and examine each area of the Royals’ roster. Some areas are set with starters. Some competitions will determine positions in the spring. And just like every year, depth will be important as the Royals navigate a 162-game season.

First up, the catching. Next week, we’ll take a look at first base.

Projected starter:

OK, so this isn’t the best position to start with when talking about how different the roster will be in 2024. No question here, Perez is the Royals’ incumbent behind the dish, the heralded leader and team captain. Trade rumors swirled around him at the Trade Deadline last year and somewhat at the beginning of the offseason, but the Royals don’t seem keen on trading their veteran catcher right now. Perez will again be an impact bat in the middle of the Royals’ lineup, despite coming off a 2023 season when his power dwindled a bit with a 94 OPS+ compared to 110 and 128 in '22 and '21, respectively. 

Like past years, some of Perez’s struggles came because of injury. As the 33-year-old gets older and catching is more of a strain on his body, the Royals will try to get him time as the designated hitter and at first base, which he enjoyed playing last year. That’s why it’s imperative to have a good backup.

Backup options:

And Fermin proved he could be that reliable backup for the Royals last year. In 70 games last season, the 28-year-old slashed .281/.321/.461 with 10 doubles, nine homers and a 112 OPS+ before he ended the season on the injured list with a broken finger. Fermin grades well behind the plate, too, with eight defensive runs saved last year and a 2.1 catcher framing rating, and he has the trust of the entire Royals’ pitching staff. Fermin had a reputation in the Minors as an uncommonly good backup catcher, and that has translated right over to the Majors.

Question to answer: How much will Perez play behind the plate?

This question greets the Royals every season, and this year is no different. In the past couple of years, Perez has been more open to getting playing time elsewhere to preserve his health, and that will likely be the case again this season. He and Fermin are close, too, and seeing Fermin’s work ethic and ability goes a long way for Perez to hand over the reins. Perez will likely be catching a lot at the beginning of the season, like he usually does, and then manager Matt Quatraro will manage Perez’s workload on a day-by-day basis as the season progresses.

“Talking with Salvy, he’s open to anything,” Quatraro said at the Winter Meetings last month. “He just wants to play. He played first last year, he’s OK DHing, doesn’t love it, even though it’s something he’s pretty good at. Freddy did a great job last year. We hope he does that again and more. … He’s going to do great defensively whenever we put him in there, so that’s a nice fallback for us. But we’re open to taking some games away from Salvy behind the plate as much for his own good because we know he wants to play another four, five, six years.”

Who else is in the Pipeline?

The Royals’ No. 1 prospect is a catcher, but is still years away from Kansas City after being drafted eighth overall in 2023. He’ll begin his first professional season likely in Single-A Columbia. The Royals are hoping local product and '21 third-rounder takes a big step forward this season, likely in Double-A Northwest Arkansas. High-A Quad Cities challenged Jensen last year, as he slashed .211/.356/.363 with 20 doubles and 11 home runs. Even though his strikeout rate jumped to 24.1%, he still has a keen eye at the plate with an 18.5% walk rate last year. There are plenty of things to improve on for the Royals’ No. 7 prospect, but the organization still feels good about his future.

As far as catching depth for this year, the Royals will likely have , whom they signed to a Minor League deal after designating him for assignment in November, in Triple-A, and could get the bump up to Omaha this year as well.