Perez proving to be a great catch for Royals
Salvador Perez is a right-handed-hitting catcher from Venezuela. The Kansas City Royals signed him as an amateur free agent in 2006. He is one of the many bright spots of the Royals' future.
It is difficult to prove that having Perez through most of the first half of the season would have made a difference in the standings for the Royals. But they sure are a better team with Perez in the lineup. A Spring Training knee injury threw his current season off-track. More about that later.
Making an immediate impact after his promotion to the Major League club, the relatively tall and athletic, 6-foot-3, 245-pound Perez made his Major League debut with the Royals on Aug. 10, 2011.
His arrival in Kansas City came after he hit for a combined batting average of .290 last season in the Minor Leagues. He played for both Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where he hit .283 in 309 plate appearances, and Triple-A Omaha, batting .333 in 12 games and 49 plate appearances.
At the age of 21, Perez played in 38 games for the Royals, making 158 plate appearances in his late-season trial. Included in his 49 hits were two home runs, two triples and eight doubles.
He made such an outstanding impression with a .331 batting average that he was considered to be among the highest-ranking offensive catchers entering this season.
Just as he was establishing himself as an impact Major League catcher, Perez had his 2012 season derailed due to a freak injury. He tore the meniscus in his left knee lunging for an errant pitch in the bullpen while warming up Jonathan Sanchez.
The injury happened during Spring Training and it sent the Royals scrambling for help behind the plate. The tear required surgery and physical therapy, preventing Perez from playing again until June.
Perez had signed a contract extension through 2016 just prior to his injury. Pending something unusual, or a total collapse of his skills, he will be the Kansas City backstop for a long time to come.
I first got to watch Salvador Perez play in the 2010 Arizona Fall League. The way he played the game exceeded his statistical results.
He played 11 games for the Surprise Rafters, hitting only .211 in 38 at-bats. Interestingly, he showed outstanding hitting ability, but the balls just didn't fall in his favor. He did drive in 10 runs.
I was impressed with his overall hitting mechanics, but was even more impressed with his defensive prowess. While catching 93 2/3 innings, not one runner stole a base. In short, I thought I was watching a defense-first catcher. In fact, Perez has become equally proficient on both sides of the ball.
Perez's ability to hit for a high average, as well as his flashes of power, convinced many he was a top prospect playing a position where offense is scarce and highly prized.
After only his brief trial hitting Major League pitching last season, most baseball evaluators were convinced the Royals had found a starting catcher with the ability to shepherd pitchers and take charge of a game.
What makes Salvador Perez special?
Offensively, Perez has the pitch recognition and plate discipline that is usually seen in more-seasoned veterans. He consistently makes outstanding contact, striking out only 139 times in 1,397 plate appearances over six Minor League seasons. That's remarkable.
It wasn't a fluke, however. When he joined the Royals, his strikeout rate remained consistent with his Minor League performance. Last season, he struck out only 20 times. This year, only three in 52 plate appearances.
While Perez puts the bat on the ball and his strikeouts are rare, he doesn't walk very much at all. It's a part of his game that could probably use some improvement, but it really is the least of the team's concerns.
Another outstanding component of Perez's offensive game is his sweet, measured swing that results in line drives up the middle and into the gaps. Instead of using an uppercut swing or lengthening his swing to reach the seats, Perez is content to drive the ball for a single or an extra-base hit.
His discipline and consistency in finishing his swing with a sound mechanical approach sets him apart as a solid threat to drive in runs or get on base and score.
Defensively, Perez has proven to be very solid in most of his mechanics -- just as I saw in Phoenix in the Arizona Fall League. He has a very solid and accurate arm that results in throwing out potential basestealers at a very respectable rate.
While he is dependent upon pitchers keeping the runner close, he sets up very well for his throws to second. The carry and location on his throws are above Major League average.
Most important, I think he handles pitchers extremely well.
As he won't turn 23 until August, Perez may still develop more muscle and strength. He has powerful legs, is in good condition and appears to be capable of full baseball activity following his knee surgery. That's all good news for the Royals.
Given the recent arrival of potential impact players such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain -- coupled with the pending arrival of talented hitter Wil Myers -- Salvador Perez will play an important role in shaping the future of the Royals. In a few years, outfielder Bubba Starling and a pitching corps that continues to develop will join the young players.
Good teams are strong up the middle of the diamond.
Strong catching, pitching, shortstop, second base and center field play usually form the nucleus for winning baseball. That's what Salvador Perez brings. He provides offensive and defensive strength at catcher -- the focal point of a sound Major League approach.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.