KANSAS CITY, Mo. – While it is certainly true that you can never have enough pitching, there are two other positions of need perhaps even harder to stockpile:
Shortstop and catcher.
“When we got here (in 2006), we didn’t really have a single shortstop in the system we thought could help us at the major-league level,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “That became one of our top priorities. And our scouting and development people have done a great job at stocking our system with high-quality prospects.”
The Royals, in fact, may be the envy of most other major-league teams. They already have Alcides Escobar, one of the rising stars in the game at shortstop who is signed through 2015.
And the Royals also have several other prospects in the minors, several of whom, some scouts say, could someday be as good, if not better, than Escobar.
The Royals also seem eager to hoard the catching position, even though Salvador Perez, another potential rising star, is locked up with the club potentially through 2019.
“Those positions – catcher and shortstop – are like quarterbacks in football,” assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said. “You have to keep drafting and developing them because you can’t win without them. They’re very hard to find. We always have the mindset to draft a catcher in the top five rounds.
“And you want to sign as many quality Latin players as you can as well. With the catching position, there’s always going to be attrition involved because it is such a demanding position physically.”
The Royals have immediate insurance for Escobar were he to get injured. Christian Colon, the team’s first-round pick in 2010, was selected as a shortstop. And although Colon has been projected by some as the team’s future second baseman, he has played almost all of his college and pro career at shortstop.
Colon, who drew comparisons to Derek Jeter when he was drafted, showed signs of improving his offense last season when he hit .289 at Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
But the real excitement begins with the prospects well below Colon in the system.
Adalberto Mondesi: The son of former big leaguer Raul Mondesi, Adalberto was signed out of the Dominican at age 15. He’s 17 now and still raw but Picollo points out that he’s “very mature for his age.” Mondesi hit .290 with three homers and 30 RBIs at rookie league Idaho Falls last season. The Royals are stretching Mondesi out to Class A Lexington (Ky.) this season. “It’s a reach for someone that young but we think he can handle it,” Picollo said.
Orlando Calixte: Another free-agent signee out of the Domincan, Calixte is 21 and obviously more advanced than Mondesi, both offensively and defensively. Calixte has shown pop in his bat, hitting 10 homers last summer at Class A Kane County while hitting .281. Terrific hands and range. He’ll start at Double-A Northwest Arkansas but could make a transition to third base.
Humberto Arteaga: Another high-ceiling prospect, Arteaga is just 19. A free-agent signee from Venezuela, he hit .274 in rookie league ball at Burlington (N.C.). Should start at Class A Lexington and might play with Mondesi up the middle at second base. “You can mix and match with almost all these guys,” Picollo said. “They can play second or short.”
Michael Antonio: A third-round pick in 2010, Antonio is 21 and has developed more quickly defensively than offensively. Struggled at Class A Kane County, hitting only .213. Still, Antonio is a high-ceiling guy, though a big of a project. Moved to third last year but could always be moved back to shortstop in a pinch.
Alex McClure: An 11th-round pick in 2010, McClure, 23, has had an interesting path. He began his college career in community college, then went to Vanderbilt, played a season there, then transferred to Middle Tennessee State, where he had to sit out a year because of transfer rules. He signed with the Royals instead. Has advanced to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, mostly because of his glove. “He could start in the majors right now defensively,” Picollo said. “The bat hasn’t come around yet.”
The Royals’ also continue to stockpile catchers. Here’s a look:
Chad Johnson: A fifth-round pick in last year’s draft, Johnson likely will start this season in extended spring before heading to Idaho Falls for rookie ball. He’s 6 feet 1, 190, and just 18 years old. “He’s got the tools,” Picollo said. “And he hits left-handed, which is always kind of a nice bonus for a catcher.”
Cam Gallagher: While the Royals obviously expect to have Perez around for a long time, they are quietly excited to see what they have in Gallagher, a big and powerful 20-year-old who was drafted in the second round in 2011. Gallagher is 6 feet 2, 220 pounds, with natural power and good defensive skills. He hit .276 at rookie ball in Burlington last summer. Compares offensively to Perez. “Very soft hands and pitchers love to pitch to him,” Picollo said. “He’s got some pop in his bat, too. We’re excited about him.” Probably will start at Lexington.
Parker Morin: Picked in the 14th round last year, Morin has a catcher’s build, a stocky 5 feet 11 and 203 pounds. Hits left-handed and has some pop along with an above average throwing arm. Will move up to Class A Wilmington. Caesar Gonzalez: A free-agent signee at age 17, Gonzalez is now 19 and is 6 feet 3, 185. Has the same build Perez had at that age. Will start the season in extended spring.
Pedro Gonzalez: Signed as a non-drafted free-agent in 2009, Pedro (no relation to Caesar) played last season in rookie ball in Surprise and hit .283 with two homers and 21 RBIs. A bit more advanced than Caesar and could move to Idaho Falls to start this season.
Jin Ho-Shin: Another power catcher, Ho-Shin is just 21 and still filling out, though he already stands 6 feet 1 and weighs 212 pounds. He is the first Korean-born player in franchise history and was a free-agent signee in 2009. Has started to show his power, hitting seven homers with 33 RBIs last season at rookie ball in Idaho Falls. “An interesting guy,” Picollo said. “He’s learned English and Japanese in a short time and really communicates well with the other players.”