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Salvador Perez is going to be the Royals’ regular catcher in 2012 and, barring injury or a complete implosion (he wouldn’t be the first 21 year old to do so at the major league level), Sal will catch somewhere in excess of 120 of the Royals’ games.  As such, whether Manny Pina, Brayan Pena or someone not on the roster yet becomes the back-up catcher, their contributions on the field will likely be minimal.

Still, one of the undeniable constants of major league rosters since the dawn of baseball is that every one has to carry a back-up catcher.  There is a chance that 24 year old Manny Pina could be that player.

Acquired late in the 2009 season along with outfielder Tim Smith in exchange for pitcher Danny Gutierrez, Pina came with the reputation as a strong armed defender with a suspect bat.   At that time, given the state of the organization’s catching corps, Manny was deemed to be at the top of the minor league depth chart.  

Pina was coming off a 2009 AA season with the Rangers’ Frisco team in which he hit .259/.313/.393 and threw out 32% of potential base stealers.  He returned to spend most of 2010 back in AA, this time with Northwest Arkansas, and put up virtually an identical hitting line.   Pina did throw out 42% of potential runners in 2010, but committed nine more errors, albeit with two less passed balls.

Of course, that’s the rub when it comes to assessing catchers:  those raw numbers tell only a small part of what he may or may not have contributed to the team’s defense and, more importantly, his team’s pitchers.  At the time of the trade, Baseball America labeled Pina as a catcher with a plus arm but the rest of his defensive work was less polished.   Last summer, they noted that Salvador Perez was both a superior hitter and defender.   Earlier this fall, Greg Schaum over at Pine Tar Press indicated that Manny had “learned to call a good game and was a solid defender”.

What level of defender Manny Pina might be in the majors is up for debate, but it seems the consensus (one I agree with) is that Pina will be more than adequate behind the plate, especially in a back-up role.  The question comes down to his bat, which has produced a career minor league line of .250/.317/.358 spread over seven seasons.

As noted above, Pina slugged above his career norm in his two season in AA, but it was the Texas League after all.   One can also check the data at Fangraphs and find that Manny has a career BABIP of an ‘unlucky’ .250.   However, that number has consistently been ‘unlucky’ throughout his professional career and it leads one to believe that it might not be so much ‘bad luck’ as it is a lack of hitting the ball hard with any consistency. 

One interesting number in Pina’s career happened last year in Omaha.  After not topping an on-base percentage of .319 since 2005, Pina posted an OBP of .365 in 2011 and did so despite hitting just .239.    Without significantly increasing his strikeout percentage, Manny doubled his walk rate.    Whether that is an actual development or just a blip on the statistical landscape remains to be seen, but the ability to up his on-base percentage consistently may speed Pina to the majors.

Of course, the bigger question is who will be the back-up for Kansas City?  Right now, I think Brayan Pena has the inside track simply because he has caught (perhaps not caught ‘well’, but caught nonetheless) 186 major league games and is used to spending the better part of the season on the bench.   While Pena’s bat has declined in each of his three seasons as a Kansas City Royal, he still has some value as a bat off the bench.

That move would allow Pina to remain as Omaha’s primary catcher (there’s no real pressure behind him to make room in the system) and see if he can continue this new found ability to get on base.   By 2013, Perez will have hopefully established himself as a mainstay behind the plate and the Royals could then opt to go with the better defense that Pina provides as a backup.

Of course, all that assumes that Dayton Moore does not pick up a veteran backup at some point prior to Opening Day.   Frankly, I still think that is the more likely happening this off-season.



Even though Tuesday’s game lasted under two hours, you need to stay up late if you want to digest all the Royals news of the day, as the brain trust at 1 Royal Way made another roster move in the wee hours announcing the planned call-up of catcher Sal Perez from the Storm Chasers.

The Process not only rolls along, it’s at cruising speed.

Interesting timing on the call-up for Perez, but the Royals are going to be shorthanded as Brayan Pena’s wife is pregnant and will be induced on Wednesday in Miami. Perez has only been in Omaha for a couple of weeks and has put together a fine start, hitting .333/.347/.500 in 48 at bats. He has yet to walk and has struck out just six times. Prior to becoming a Storm Chaser, he hit .283/.329/.427 in just under 300 plate appearances for the Naturals. In that time, he walked just 16 times but had only 30 strikeouts. To say Perez is all about making contact would be an understatement.

Sometimes the best laid plans… I bet you free articles on the internet that the Royals, knowing Pena would leave the team at some point to be with his wife, had planned to call Manny Pina. Of course, Pina’s call was accelerated by the concussion suffered by Matt Treanor. With Treanor still on the seven-day DL, and Pena’s wife set to pop, the Royals hands are suddenly tied. They face the prospect of having to make a 40-man roster move to replace a player that may be gone for just a couple of days. Sometimes the dominoes fall in a different order than you expect.

What’s really interesting about this is the article in the Star says Perez is expected to be the regular catcher. I know he’s supposed to be the catcher of the future, but I guess I’m kind of surprised they would make that kind of statement with Pina just up from the farm himself. Besides, Pena is on baseball’s version of paternity leave. It’s not like the guy is going to be gone for six weeks. If you want to try to read between the lines, it seems the Royals will move Pina back to Omaha (he was in Northwest Arkansas when he was recalled, having swapped spots with Perez) for the remainder of the season. If Treanor is cleared to play, I wonder if the club will decide to keep four catchers on their major league roster once rosters expand on September 1.

I know there will be howls about the Royals rushing Perez. Honestly, who knows what the Royals are thinking at this point. Yes, he does have a handful of limited appearances above Double-A, but I believe the Royals were planning on adding him to the 40-man and bringing him up in September. This accelerates his Process by about four weeks. It strikes everyone as an odd move because this is so against the method the Royals have used. I mean, if anything, they wait too long to bring guys up. If there’s one thing the Royals system is doing correctly at this stage in The Process is develop position players. If they think Perez can handle full-time duty at the big league level, I’ll give them a free pass here. Let’s see what he’s got.

Could the Royals have recalled another catcher? Someone like Cody Clark, who is hitting .274/.328/.462 as a backup in Omaha? Sure. But thinking they would do that would be to ignore everything we know about the way this organization works. Clark is in Omaha as organizational filler. They don’t use 40-man roster spots on guys who aren’t part of the long term plan. Clark is a nice backup for Triple-A, but he’s the emergency guy in case all else fails. All else being the four guys in front of him in the pecking order. Besides, Perez needed to be added to the 40-man this winter. Again, they’re just accelerating his Process.

That said, I figured the Royals were done calling up position players until September. And even then, I thought the call-ups would be limited to the guys already on the 40-man roster… Like Lorenzo Cain and a couple of pitchers. You know how Dayton Moore has a hard time dealing with a 25-man roster? Yeah, the 40 man kind of gives him fits. It seems like he just hates to make a move. See his comments last week about not wanting to expose Luis Mendoza to waivers. Now, we’re in the same position we were last week (sort of) in guessing who the Royals will dump to get Perez on the roster. Last time, I listed three possibilities and missed on the eventual loser (Navarro) so let’s just skip this exercise. Trying to guess what this front office will do based on logic is a losing proposition. They march to their own beat. (I’ll go ahead and place my money on Jesse Chavez, knowing I’m making a sucker bet.)

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the week shakes out, with a Pena return imminent, Treanor’s continued recovery from the concussion and Perez and Pina and the ultimate battle for playing time. If I were a betting man, I’d bet we see Pina down to Omaha when Pena returns and Treanor held out until the rosters expand in September. Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if Pena and Treanor were back at the catching tandem in a couple of weeks and Pina and Perez back in their respective slots in the minors.

With this team, it’s impossible to predict.

I’ll be honest, I don’t have an opinion on the new name of the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate.   My only real opinion is that I don’t like teams changing names, be it good or bad, and as such the new Omaha Stormchasers is nothing that gets me excited.

What does get me excited, however, is the Omaha team’s possible lineup next April.   Perhaps as much as anything else, it will represent just how much potential progress the Royals’ organization has made under Dayton Moore.

After years of being the depository of has-beens, almosts and never-weres, the Omaha Royals/Stormchasers are going to offer a somewhat breathtaking array of talent when they take the field next April.   Gone are the days of Brian Buchanan, Gookie Dawkins, Seth Etherton and Brandon Duckworth (all fine humans, I’m sure, but not exactly the solution to any major league problem that might arise during a season).   Instead, the Stormchasers might well roll out this lineup when they open up in their new stadium next spring:

Derrick Robinson, CF

Johnny Giavotella, 2B

Mike Moustakas, 3B

Eric Hosmer, 1B

Clint Robinson, DH

David Lough, RF

Paulo Orlando, LF

Jeff Bianchi, SS

Manny Pina, C

It may be a stretch to have Bianchi at shortstop that early, but he should figure into the mix at some point.   It is also possible that David Lough could well open 2011 in Kansas City, but for now we will start him off in Omaha.

When you couple this lineup with what is likely to be a bullpen stocked with near major league ready homegrown talent (Louis Coleman, Blaine Hardy, et.al.) and a starting rotation which at some point will include Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb and Chris Dwyer (maybe even Aaron Crow), it will be hard to resist making a trek or two to Omaha in 2011.

While the organizational pitching depth is near legendary status at this point, the real positive about the Omaha roster next season is the position players who are not on it.

Just a rung below, we are likely to see Wil Myers (be it at catcher or in the outfield), middle infielder of the near future Christian Colon and catching prospect Salvador Perez.   When is the last time you could look at the AA and AAA batting orders and say with some degree of confidence that there were five or six future major league regulars playing?

2011 might well be a tough year to be a Kansas City Royals’ fan, but if you can tolerate the new name, it will be a fun year to be a fan of the Stormchasers.

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