Are Royals Fans Sleeping on Catcher Freddy Fermin?

It is easy to forget about the catching position in Kansas City, especially since Salvador Perez has been firmly entrenched behind the plate for the Royals since the 2012 season.

After all, Salvy signed a four-year extension prior to the 2021 season, and he has been the face of the Royals’ franchise ever since popular players like Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Eric Hosmer left Kansas City.

That said, the catching position is one of the most demanding ones in baseball, especially on the defensive end. Salvy’s bat is required to be in the Royals’ lineup on an almost daily basis, especially considering his home-run power. However, his defense has taken some steps back over the past few seasons, especially as framing has become more important across the league (for now).

And that has put pressure on the Royals front office to find a reasonable and regular backup catcher, which unfortunately has not materialized since the 2018 season.

Over the past five years, here’s a look at how Royals catchers have fared, according to Fangraphs. Notice how after Salvy, it is not exactly an impressive group.

Since 2018, only Cam Gallagher has accumulated an fWAR over 1.0. Gallagher is currently in the Guardians organization, as he was recently signed to a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training this winter after being let go by the Orioles at the conclusion of the season.

According to Roster Resouce, it appears that Salvy is projected to find himself behind the plate a majority of the time in 2023, with MJ Melendez spelling him behind the plate every now and then when Melendez is not at DH or in the outfield.

That said, there is another catcher on the Royals’ 40-man roster who’s been making some noise in the Venezuelan Winter League this winter and could surprise offensive and defensively in 2023 if given the opportunity.

That catcher is none other than 27-year-old Freddy Fermin.


What is Fermin’s Background in the Royals Organization?

Fermin has long been a regular invite to Spring Training in Surprise, though those frequent invites didn’t materialize into a roster spot until this past offseason. Signed by the Royals as an international free agent in 2015 out of Venezuela (Salvy’s home country), Fermin has been known in the Minors for his solid work ethic, and excellent rapport with pitchers.

Alex Duvall of Royals Farm Report had this to say about Fermin after he was called up last July when 10 Royals players were unable to travel to Toronto due to their unvaccinated status.

Fermin has long been known for being almost “Salvy-esque” in his work in the Minors with pitchers, especially in terms of mentoring and calling games. In addition, he also showcases some solid tools, especially with the arm.

While he only had a caught-stealing rate of 25 percent last year in 69 games in Triple-A Omaha, he was much better in a split stint in Omaha and Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2021. His caught-stealing rate was 30 percent overall that season, which included a 29 percent CS rate with Naturals and a 33 percent rate with the Storm Chasers.

Here’s an example of Fermin utilizing his arm strength effectively to pick off a baserunner at second base (in extra innings no less).

In addition to some surprising fielding tools, Fermin also has an experience with this pitching staff, especially the young pitchers in this organization.

Fermin played in Low-A Lexington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2019 as well, and in that process, he gained familiarity with young pitchers in the Royals system. That is in addition to his work with those pitchers in multiple Spring Trainings, as well as at the Alternate Site in 2020, where he developed a good rapport with not just the young pitchers, but the coaching staff and player development team as well.

Despite being at the Alternate Site, he didn’t appear in any games in 2020. On the other hand, his history of work with the young pitching staff and their development make him a special catcher in the organization who could be key for new pitching coach Brian Sweeney, bench coach Paul Hoover (a former catcher), as well as bullpen coach Mitch Stetter, who worked primarily in the player development side of the Royals organization before being assigned to his current role.

The intangibles of Fermin are probably a big reason why the Royals decided to DFA Sebastian Rivero, who also had very high grades and intangibles from Royals scouts, but simply didn’t hit enough to stick at the MLB level (Rivero has a career 21 wRC+ in 73 plate appearances).

But unlike Rivero, there may be some actual upside with Fermin’s bat, even if it may only show in a limited number of plate appearances.


Why Fermin’s Bat Stands Out

When looking at Fermin’s track record offensively in the Minors, his numbers are actually quite surprising, especially over the past two seasons.

Last season in 87 games in Triple-A Omaha, Fermin hit .270 with a 123 wRC+ in 348 plate appearances. In addition to hitting 15 home runs and posting a .209 ISO, he also posted a BB/K ratio of 0.74, which included a walk rate of 13.2 percent. Thus, the native Venezuelan showed solid plate skills in the International League in 2022, especially for a catcher.

But 2022 wasn’t Fermin’s lone successful offensive season.

In 2021, he hit .279 with a 116 wRC+ in 73 games and 303 plate appearances with the Naturals. Once again, Fermin showed surprising power (10 home runs; .167 ISO) and a mature eye at the plate (0.58 BB/K ratio).

To put it in perspective, Rivero only posted an 87 wRC+ in 42 games with the Storm Chasers in 2021 and a 60 wRC+ in 76 wRC+ in 42 games with the Naturals in 2022. Therefore, it isn’t out of the question to think that Fermin could offer some defensive AND offensive upside behind the plate as a backup catcher for the Royals in 2023.

Furthermore, Fermin’s recent winter campaign in Venezuela only makes his potential even more enticing for this upcoming season.

In 36 games with a Leones del Caracas squad that finished in first place in the LVBP with a 36-19 record, Fermin hit .404 with a 1.048 and had four home runs and 28 RBI in 193 plate appearances. Additionally, he also drew 25 walks while only striking out 24 times, good for a BB/K ratio of 1.04.

His performance was one of the most impressive campaigns this winter by a Leones hitter. Fermin also stood out despite more familiar big-league hitters such as Eugenio Suarez, Gleyber Torres, and Harold Castro also being on the Leones roster.

If that wasn’t enough, Fermin was also rewarded for his breakout LVBP campaign by being named Rookie of the Year:

Fermin isn’t just a “good Minor League” story anymore, who simply earned a promotion in the Toronto Blue Jays series last year mostly due to the 10 Royals players who decided to not get vaccinated.

Instead, he is showing that he needs to be taken seriously as a player who could land a spot on the Royals’ Opening Day roster, which seemed unthinkable a few months ago.


Will Fermin Get His Shot This Spring?

I don’t think the Royals would have added Fermin to the 40-man roster if they didn’t believe he could legitimately contribute as a possible backup at the Major League level.

If the Royals simply believed in him as organizational catching depth, they would have continued to leave him off the 40-man roster, and simply continued to give him Spring Training invite after Spring Training invite until someone else emerged from the Royals’ farm system. Fermin has long been unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft and gone unselected, so it’s not like there has been a tremendous interest in his services from opposing MLB squads.

But there’s an intriguing profile to Fermin’s game, and his gains with the bat could hint that he could handle himself at the MLB level, even if it may only be 100 or so plate appearances next season.

I am not sure if Fermin will ever hit enough to be an MLB regular catcher, let alone do enough to take away a serious number of games behind the plate from Salvy as well. That said, I think back-to-back solid offensive years in Double-A and Triple-A should merit some kind of opportunity for Fermin in the upcoming 2023 season.

At the very least, Fermin seems to be a catcher who can bring similar energy to Salvy behind the plate, whenever he should get the opportunity, whether it’s this Spring in Cactus League play or during the regular season. That alone should endear him to not only the Royals pitching staff but the Royals fanbase as well.

There are plenty of great stories to root for on the Royals this Spring, especially with the club seemingly “all-in” more or less on building the “youth movement” in 2023 (i.e. explaining why they didn’t make a splash in free agency).

And yet, Fermin may be one of those top stories. In fact, he may actually live up to that hope and optimism, especially if he’s given a serious shot to prove himself worthy of the backup catching spot in Cactus League play.

Melendez belongs in the outfield defensively anyways

Let’s see fellow Venezuelan countrymen Salvy and Fermin take hold of the catching position in Kansas City this season.

Photo Credit: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

5 thoughts on “Are Royals Fans Sleeping on Catcher Freddy Fermin?

  1. Great article Kevin. I agree with your thoughts completely. I live out here in Surprise, AZ and watch a lot of the back field games during the Spring. Fermin has always stood out to me as a player. I might be at a field to watch a “bigger name” like Seuly Matias but I leave the game remembering how good Fermin played. He is a little guy but a good player, I wouldn’t expect much power from him despite his minor league numbers. He is definitely better than Sebastian Rivero and I think he can be a good backup ML catcher.
    I also agree with your statement that Salvy and Fermin should handle catching duties in 2023 with MJM getting the opportunity to be a fulltime left fielder. MJM deserves the opportunity to fully focus on learning to play the outfield. Then in 2024 he can be brought back into a hybrid role if that is best for him and the team.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment and the perspective! That’s what I hear a lot too: you don’t really go into the game really “expecting” to pay attention to Fermin, but he ends up capturing your attention nonetheless. And I think that’s good perspective on the power. Honestly, it’s really hard to gauge Triple-A power numbers for any hitter since the league is so hitter friendly (especially Omaha). But I think he will hit enough, and offers enough defensive upside and intangibles to stick at the backup catcher position, unlike Rivero, who simply didn’t hit enough.

      And I totally agree about Melendez. While I know he has value as a catcher, the fact of the matter is that he just isn’t all that great there on a framing and blocking end (the latter was really surprising since I didn’t hear anything about that previously). Melendez is athletic enough to handle the corners, and I think that will preserve his stamina, which could have positive effects on the bat. But as you said, he never really learned the position of OF in the Minors so he should at least get a full-go in Spring and in 2023 to determine if he can be there long-term, and if he can’t, he can swing back to that hybrid position as necessary.

      Like

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