This winter we will be looking at the Kansas City Royals 40-man roster and evaluating what each player brings to the table and what their immediate future will be with the team. In the first part of our series we will be looking at the catching position. Currently the Royals have four catchers on the 40 man roster. Jason Kendall, who appeared in 118 games last season, is injured and will not be available until after the season begins. Kendall, signed through the 2011 season, is a 15 year major league veteran, so we know what type of numbers we can expect from the three time all-star.
Beyond Kendall, Brayan Pena is the catcher with the most major league experience. Pena (28 on Opening Day), has spent parts of six seasons in the majors, the first four being with the Atlanta Braves and the last two with the Royals after being claimed off waivers in 2008. Pena doesn't do anything particularly great on the field, but has always been revered as a great teammate in the clubhouse. The Cuban has occasional power and at this point in his career his throwing arm was only slightly better at throwing out runners last season than the aging Kendall. There are certainly worse options than Pena out there, but he really is nothing more than platoon catcher on a poor major league roster.
Lucas May was originally an 8th round selection of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003. May came to the Royals last summer in the trade that sent Scott Podsednik to the Dodgers. He broke into the big leagues for the first time after the trade, appearing in a dozen contests for the Royals. 26 on Opening Day, Currently Lucas has the most power of any of the Royals catchers on the 40 man. in 24 games with Omaha last season after the trade, May saw a drop in his batting average from Albuquerque (Dodgers AAA affiliate), but actually saw an increase in .OBP, .SLG, and .OPS. What makes that noteworthy is with Albuquerque playing in altitude, you often will see inflated power names over someone who plays somewhere such as Omaha. May's number of walks drawn have been the same over the course of his minor league career, but he had reduced his number of strikeouts greatly since 2006. That year also happened to be the year May made the position change to catcher. May was drafted as a shortstop, before switching to the outfield for a year, and eventually settling behind the plate in 2006 while playing in the Advanced A league. Based solely at numbers, May struggles the most amongst the other three catchers at throwing out runners.
Manuel Pina is the name that intrigues many Royals fans. Pina (23 on Opening Day) is a Venezuelan catcher who came over over in the Danny Gutierrez trade with the Texas Rangers in 2009. Pina is known as having a live arm behind the dish, having throw out 35% of all runners over the course of his minor league career, including an amazing 45% of base runners in 74 games with Northwest Arkansas last year. His power numbers have also increased quite a bit since the beginning of 2008. He may not have the power of May, but Pina doesn't strike out nearly as much either. With his stable defense, and offensive numbers that Royals manager Ned Yost believes will improve, Pina has the most future potential of the four catchers.
Unless Pina forces the Royals hand coming out of Spring Training, look for Pena and May to share time behind the plate, while Pina will continue to work on his overall game in Omaha. However, it's no secret that Royals General Manager Dayton Moore is always looking for improved catching. I would not be opposed , and it wouldn't shock me to see the Kansas City Royals bring in a cheap veteran catcher on a minor league contract to provide competition in Spring Training. As others have suggested, the Royals could look at Rob Johnson a defensive minded catcher who threw out 35% of runners attempting to steal against him. Johnson also carries a career fielding percentage of .992.
Another free agent I could see the Royals kicking the tires on would be Josh Bard. Like Johnson, Bard played last season for the Seattle Mariners. Bard is a little older and not as good defensively, but still has thrown out a modest 29% of would be base stealers over the past 2 years and also has the same .992 career fielding percentage as Johnson. I am not saying the Royals will or even need to sign another catcher but it never hurts to challenge the current guys come February.