Going Deep: Meibrys Viloria

This article sprang from that conflicting feeling fantasy players (most often football) often get when hearing about a great player getting injured. I find it’s usually a four step process:

  1. “Oh no, Player X got injured.”
  2. “Player X has that great backup, Player Y, who can finally play!”
  3. “I shouldn’t be this excited about a guy getting hurt.”
  4. “I better pick up Player Y before Ron from accounting does.”

Thus, I felt bad when my second thought after hearing the news of Salvador Perez‘s impending Tommy John surgery was: “Now I get to talk about Meibrys Viloria!” Other than being an anagram of “My Brasilia Olives” Meibrys Viloria is also an intriguing young catcher, and one who could make a fantasy impact as soon as 2019.

Hailing from Colombia, (like fellow promising young catcher Jorge Alfaro) the Royals signed Viloria, then a shortstop, in 2013. He responded with a solid professional debut in 2014, slashing .278/.380/.417 in 46 games between the Burlington and DSL Royals, walking 24 times compared with just 28 strikeouts in 180 plate appearances. As to be expected with a player making such a drastic position change, Viloria struggled defensively in 2014. Though his strong shortstop arm allowed him to gun down 27% of would be base stealers, he also made his fair share of errors, a running trend through his minor league development.

2015 would not be the breakout campaign Viloria was hoping for, as his offensive game as a whole took a step back in a full season at Burlington, slashing .260/.335/.260. Yes, you read that correctly, a .260 slugging percentage. Viloria had no extra-base hits in 45 games and walked less than in 2014. The 13.4% strikeout rate was still very good, but a nearly 4% drop in walk rate wasn’t ideal. Viloria was just 18 years old.

Per an interview with Victor Flores of chukarsextra.com, a news outlet covering Royals minor league affiliate Idaho Falls, Meibrys worked in the offseason on his approach, being more aggressive at the plate and swinging at more pitches. This simple change in philosophy did wonders for him as his next season showed.

 

The Breakthrough

 

Starting the year at Idaho Falls, Viloria got to work immediately. He slashed a gargantuan .514/.558/.892 in the first month of the season, rapping 11 extra-base hits over 43 plate appearances after having none in the entire 2015 season. He proceeded to slash .349/.412/.550 for the remainder of the year, finishing with a .376/.436/.606 line to take home MVP honors for the Pioneer League. Let’s take a look at some interesting stats from that season:

  • .648 SLG vs. RHP, .460 SLG vs. LHP. While Viloria didn’t struggle against left-handed pitching by any means (He batted .320 against them, and his 14.5% walk rate was significantly better than his 5.6% rate against righties), it’s worth noting that he hit quite a bit worse against them as a whole. This is in line with his career rates both prior to and following this season. While he’s not so bad against lefties that it would necessitate a platoon, it’s worth keeping in mind.
  • 14 errors. Yikes. The figure led Pioneer League catchers. Viloria also let up an unsightly eight passed balls. As expected, the glove is lagging behind the bat.

 

The Follow-up

 

Making the jump to Single-A, we saw some steps forward and backward for Viloria. While the walk rate stayed within a point of where it had been at Idaho Falls, Viloria’s contact rate dropped almost 6 full points. He slashed a respectable but underwhelming .259/.313/.394 at Lexington, with eight home runs in 398 plate appearances. On the positive end, the eight home runs represented his career high and gave a positive indication that Viloria was tapping into the raw power scouts had projected for him four years ago in Colombia.

Additionally, he took some steps forward defensively, drastically cutting down on his errors and killing an incredibly impressive 40% of stolen base attempts over his 99 games behind the dish. Passed balls were once again an issue though, tying with Red Sox prospect Roldani Baldwin for second in the circuit with 18 (Yankees prospect Donny Sands was the leader with 22.) Despite these struggles Viloria’s strong finish to the season (.312/.369/.468 for August and September) gave the Royals reason enough to promote the 20 year-old to High-A in 2018.

High-A brought only good things for Meibrys, as he made gains almost across the board. Some highlights though:

  • Walk rate jumped from 6.3% in 2017 to 9.8% in 2018, with contact rate holding steady.
  • Made just 5 errors in 88 games, down from 11 in 92 in 2017.
  • Halved his passed balls from 2017 in just 18 2/3 fewer innings behind the plate.

The Royals were clearly impressed with the progress he made in 2018, as they gave him the major league call in September. Though it’s a small sample size  just 10 games  we’re going to break each game down and look at how Viloria fared in his brief major league debut:

 

Sept. 2 vs BAL: 1-for-3, 2B, R, 2 RBI, BB

 

Viloria saw 15 pitches in his first MLB outing, swinging at just four of them, all fastballs. Those four swings resulted in a foul ball, two groundouts and a double off of Mike Wright Jr. that scored two baserunners. He let one called strike go past him all game and did a great job being selective with his pitches here in his first game. No swings and misses is the important stat to look at here.

 

Sept. 5 @ CLE: 0-for-3, 2 K

 

Viloria saw 12 pitches in this outing against Corey Kluber and the Indians and had a much rougher time than he did against David Hess and the Orioles. His first at-bat was a three-pitch strikeout, Kluber’s brutal slider finishing it off. His next at-bat was a three-pitch groundout, and his second strikeout came via a Cody Allen curveball after working the count to 2-2. A forgettable outing against tough competition. We saw six swings from Viloria in this one, making contact on just two of them. Kluber and Allen filled the strike zone against Viloria, with 10 of his 12 pitches seen going for strikes, but Viloria couldn’t respond.

 

Sept. 11 vs. CWS: 0-for-2, Sac Bunt

 

Viloria kicked off this outing by bunting to advance a pair of runners on a 1-1 count. Next up was a two-pitch flyout on a 1-0 count, crushing a Dylan Covey changeup. A groundout on a Nate Jones fastball wrapped this one up. Overall, Viloria saw just seven pitches in this one, making contact on three of the five strikes he saw, both other strikes being called strikes.

 

Sept. 15 vs. MIN: N/AS

 

Viloria did not get a plate appearance, only playing defensively.

 

Sept. 16 vs. MIN: 2-for-3, 2B, 2 R

 

Viloria started off this game by rapping a two-pitch single off Kyle Gibson, grounded out on a 3-1 count, then blooped a 1-1 double off Trevor Hildenberger to cap a two-hit performance. Ten pitches in this one resulted in four balls and six strikes, once again having no strikes come via swing and miss. His three swings all resulted in a ball in play.

 

Sept. 18 @ PIT: 0-for-4, 3 K

 

A pair of Jameson Taillon strikeouts started off this game, on 2-2 and 1-2 counts. Richard Rodriguez rung him up on four pitches next, and he finished off his night with a well-struck fly ball out in the 10th inning. Viloria swung at 11 of 20 offerings he got in this one and whiffed on seven. Picked up three strikes looking (including the putaway pitch in his second strikeout against Taillon) but managed at least a ball in every time up to the plate this time.

 

Sept. 22 @ DET: 0-for-3, K

 

Viloria managed to work Jordan Zimmermann up to a 2-2 count in a pair of at-bats, but the ends (grounded into a double play, strikeout looking) weren’t as satisfactory as the means. Flew out to right on the first pitch of his third at-bat to close a hitless night. He whiffed on just two of the 12 pitches he saw, putting bat to ball on three, four going for balls and watching three strikes go by.

 

Sept. 27 vs. CLE: 0-for-1, K

 

Viloria’s sole plate appearance in this contest was a five-pitch strikeout, swinging and missing on all three strikes of the at-bat.

 

Sept. 29 vs. CLE: 3-for-5, R, RBI, K

 

Viloria deposited a Kluber fastball into right field for a hit on his first pitch, following it up with a two-pitch single through the infield, once again on a Kluber fastball. He next lined out on a 2-1 Andrew Miller slider and singled off an Allen fastball on a 1-0 count his next time up. Finally, he worked Brad Hand to 3-2 before swinging over a fastball. Fifteen pitches for Viloria resulted in seven swings, just one of which was a whiff. Just two strikes looking for him in this outing.

 

Sept. 30 vs. CLE: 1-for-3, RBI, K

 

Viloria started off his final outing of the year by going down swinging on a 1-2 curveball from Carlos Carrasco, but he rapped a 2-0 single off Cookie his next time up, scoring Brian Goodwin. His final at-bat of the season was a weak groundout on a 3-2 pitch from Trevor Bauer. Viloria saw 13 pitches in this one, six going for balls. He swung at five pitches total, whiffing on two. Two strikes looking.

The biggest takeaway from that info dump is that despite Viloria’s lack of experience, he already has impressive plate skills, particularly in regard to putting bat to ball: 38% of his plate appearances were five-plus pitches, though he wasn’t able to do a lot with these extended trips to the plate, going 0-10 with a walk and five strikeouts.

However, despite his propensity for working counts, Viloria was at his best in his cup of coffee when he was aggressive, just like in his dynamic 2016 season. In his eight plate appearances seeing two or fewer pitches, he was 5-for-8, picking up just two hits when an at-bat went beyond two pitches. Though it’s a very small sample size, the fact that it aligns with what we’ve seen historically from Viloria is encouraging.

When looking at a player who has as much work to do to become fantasy relevant as Viloria does, our own Nick Pollack preaches that you’ve got to look for the path to success. I think the path here is pretty simple: find the aggressiveness again. With the injury to Perez,the stars have aligned for Viloria to step up and show the Royals what he’s capable of. Perez is only under contract for two seasons after 2019 and has battled injuries of varying degrees for the past two seasons.

A major positive for his fantasy value is that Viloria already has the second-most MLB experience of any catcher in the Royals system, trailing just Cam Gallagher‘s 35 games at the MLB level. A .218/.274/.333 slash at the major league level for Gallagher though doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, and it’s no stretch to think Viloria could open 2019 as the Royals starting catcher with a strong spring.

While the Royals have been connected to free agent catcher Martin Maldonado and such a move would certainly make sense for Kansas City, General Manager Dayton Moore is reportedly content with Gallagher and Viloria as starters. Gallagher’s superior prowess defensively is concerning for Meibrys, as is his strength against lefties, indicating that the two could likely open the year in a platoon situation. Roster Resource currently has Viloria projected for just 140 plate appearances, but if he can once again retool his approach to be more aggressive as he’s shown the willingness and ability to do in the past, he could easily play his way into a far more prominent role.

At just 22 years old, Viloria is certainly worth a late-round flier in dynasty drafts and is worth keeping on your watch list in all formats given his offensive upside and the dearth of depth at catcher.

(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

Nate Watt

Nate is a medical biller living in Spokane, WA. Interests include the Mariners, Seahawks, Hawaiian shirts, and putting off playing the unplayed games in his library to replay Earthbound and Mark of the Ninja again.

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