This column is the first of The Authority’s series reviewing each player on the Kansas City Royals’ 40 man roster. Throughout the next few months, Craig, Nick and myself will go in-depth on each member of the roster every weekday (or close to it). As rumors, signings and trades break and, on occasion, just at the whim of the writer, we may interrupt this series.
Today, we will get started with the youngest member of the roster: Salvador Perez.
Perez, who will not turn twenty-two until May of 2012, is a giant behind the plate at 6’3″ and 230 pounds (he looks even bigger). Despite his size, Salvador appears nimble and agile with borderline unbelievable pop times throwing to second. Those attributes led Perez to be voted the best defensive catcher in the system for three straight years and, in his very first major league game, Sal picked not one, but two runners off base.
As August and September droned on, the raw defensive numbers of Perez did not reflect the defensive wizardry many of us expected. Perez was tagged for two passed balls and three errors over the final 38 games he played. Pitchers uncorked 18 wild pitches with Sal behind the plate (a crude and unfair measurement of catching efficiency, I know) and opposing runners successfully stole 26 bases in 33 attempts. Those are not glowing defensive numbers, but we all know the inefficiency of any defensive metric – particularly these very crude numbers – and the added inefficiency when it comes to assessing catchers. What we saw, mostly, was a very young player playing a very demanding defensive position and showing a ton of potential.
Next to Alcides Escobar, who is the Royal most likely to win a first Gold Glove? I bet most of you said Salvador Perez.
The defense did not surprise me, but the offense did. In the first 158 plate appearances of Perez’s major league career, he hit a zesty .331/.361/.473 for a wOBA of .361. Those are huge numbers, but in a very small sample size and boosted by the dreaded unsustainable BABIP of .362. Perez, who comes with the reputation of a free swinger, may have simply been on a hot streak and is due for serious, serious regression.
The funny thing about Salvador is, despite not posting a walk rate above 5.2% since emerging from Rookie ball, that he does not strike out. There was concern that Perez was being rushed (maybe he was) after getting just 49 AAA at-bats in which he never walked, but even there he struck out at an acceptable 12% rate: basically the same frequency as he did upon his promotion to the majors. Prior to those two brief samples, struck out less than 10% of the time in his stints at Northwest Arkansas and the year before in Wilmington. There is a difference between a free-swinger and a hacker and, thus far, Salvador Perez is no hacker.
While his AAA numbers were also inflated by a ‘lucky’ BABIP, Perez posted a AA line of .283/.329/.427 with a very average .290 BABIP and a very impressive, given the park and league, High A line of .290/.322/.411 with a BABIP of .301. Other than a rough quick look at A ball in 2009 where Salvador hit just .189, Perez has hit more than well enough for a catcher throughout his minor league career.
In 340 minor league games, Perez posted a cumulative .285/.328/.397 line and, oh by the way, threw out 43% of potential base stealers. Quite frankly, who among us would not take that sort of performance for the next ten years?
Who among us, however, did not watch Perez and think there might be more upside than that? The organization has talked of the potential power that Salvador may realize: he certainly has the physicality to support that assumption. After hitting just three home runs in his first 150 minor league games, Perez hit seven in Wilmington, ten more between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha last year and then three more in six weeks in Kansas City (along with 8 doubles and 2 triples). A lot of that power has come by hitting to the opposite field as well: the scouts love opposite field power.
Not many expect Salvador Perez to hit .331 next year, but a lot expect him to become one of the best defensive catchers in baseball beginning Opening Day. While the average may slip and the on-base percentage will go with it, it might be quite logical to assume that Perez will display more power in the majors than he did in the minors.
Frankly, the Kansas City Royals need Salvador Perez to manage the pitching staff (pitchers up and down the system have loved throwing to him), they need him to control the running game (as he did in the minors) and, at the minimum, hold his own at the plate while dominating behind it. Name the next regular catcher coming up through the system…..keep looking….yeah, you get the point.
For six and one-half weeks last season, Salvador Perez looked like the real deal and did so at the grand old age of twenty-one. He hit line drives, he hit with power the opposite way, he looked like a leader. Hell, Salvador Perez looked like an All-Star for 39 games. While it would be great if he duplicated or even came close to duplicating his 2011 short stint over a long 2012 season, what the Royals need is good defense, sound game calling and decent hitting: just enough to keep a Perez-Escobar bottom of the order from turning into a black hole.
The Royals are looking for defense first out of Salvador Perez, thinking they will find more offense from other positions, but should Perez prove to be a free-swinger with good contact skills and power as opposed to being exposed as hacker with no control of the strike zone, then Kansas City has solved its catching situation for years to come.