]]>

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, here comes another ‘What If Everything Goes Right’ column.

While it has been a week since our last installment, I am going to wait to summarize where the Royals might be by 2012 until we start on the pitching staff. Today, we will visit the one remaining position on the diamond: catcher.

My guess is that the first name that popped into your head when you think of ‘catcher’ and ‘future’ was Wil Myers. Frankly, why wouldn’t it be? After all, Myers hit .369/.427/.679 in 22 rookie league games as an eighteen year old: that’s a pretty nice start to a professional career.

The question with Myers, who did not even catch full-time in high school, is can he develop the defensive part of his game and how long will it take? Let’s put it another way: would you rather have Wil Myers as a solid defensive everyday catcher starting in 2014 or as a possible rookie of the year candidate at a corner outfield position in 2012?

Now, before you answer that question, let’s examine some other ‘what if’ and ‘everyting goes right’ scenarios.

The Royals have pretty much committed themselves to a Jason Kendall/Brayan Pena with some Manny Pina sprinkled in situation behind the plate for the next two seasons. We can ‘what if’ our way to Jason Kendall resurrecting his younger on-base machine persona (unlikely) or Brayan Pena mastering the mental and defensive aspects of the position (also unlikely, but more plausible than Kendall getting on base thirty-seven percent of the time), but I have to wonder what the point is. The Royals will stick and are frankly stuck with those two guys behind the plate through the better part of 2011 or at least until the defensively skilled Pina shows he can hit enough to displace them.

While the above paragraph, assuming you managed to stick with it through the run-on sentences, might well have made your stomach hurt, it is worth noting that there are some real live prospects in the minors between Pina and Myers. While Sean McCauley and Jose Bonilla both struggled mightily in A-ball last year, both have been viewed as realistic options to eventually become major league regulars. Behind them is Salvador Perez, who also has the potential to ‘be somebody’ someday.

Despite poor offensive years, at least one of those three almost has to be up in Wilmington in 2010 (McCauley?) and the other two in Burlington. It would not suprise me to see Bonilla, who posted an OPS above 1.000 in 34 rookie ball games in 2008, to break through offensively and finish a strong 2010 in Wilmington.

Let’s assume that McCauley is able to stop the offensive decline he has experienced with each change in level and show enough to start 2011 in AA along with Bonilla, with Perez and perhaps young Maurcio Matos manning the position in Wilmington. Would it be totally out of the realm of possibility for either McCauley or Bonilla to get a sniff of the majors in 2011 and possibly start 2012 as the backup to Manny Pina or another veteran stop-gap (one year contract please, not two!).

Okay, now back to Wil Myers. What if he demolishes A-ball pitching (I’m assuming he will start in Burlington, Iowa in 2010) and AA pitching the next two years? It seems unlikely that Myers can learn the nuances of catching at the professional level in basically two seasons, but it seems very possible that he might emerge as the organization’s best hitting prospect by the end of 2011. If McCauley or Bonilla or Pina or Perez is threatening the big league level in 2012 with the idea of being a full-time catcher in 2013 (if not sooner) do you move Myers to less demanding defensive position to get his bat into the majors?

While we have projected David Lough and Jordan Parraz as above average everyday outfielders by then, Wil Myers might well have star quality. Considering we have projected Billy Butler and Alex Gordon to be impact bats and Mike Moustakas to be a power hitting DH in 2012, what it be worth it to plug another bat into the lineup? I think it might.

At this point, you might be asking how this column fits into the series. I have not really projected the end result of the catching situation as I did with the other seven positions, but that is because there is a big unknown in how you develop Myers. From an organizational perspective, that decision does not need to be made in 2010. In fact, you almost have to give Myers at least that long to see what he can do behind the plate on an everyday basis.

By next winter, however, assuming Myers hits like we believe he can, the Royals are going to have to decide what is more important: catching in 2014 and beyond or offense in 2012. That will be an interesting decision indeed.