The primary storyline of the 2011 season in Kansas City was the rapid ascension of many of the highly touted prospects to the major leagues.
I doubt I’m alone in finding Salvador Perez the least likely of the group to make the big leagues this year. That’s not a judgment of his baseball skills, but rather, an assumption of how most teams approach their players as they come up. Perez, who’d spent all of 2010 in High A, reached the big leagues less than a year after Wilmington’s last 2010 game.
Once he reached the big leagues, he looked better than advertised.
The Royals signed Perez in 2006 when he was 16 years old. By reaching the big leagues in 2011, he became the first Kansas City Royal born in the 1990s.
Perez had a solid stint in Northwest Arkansas and it seemed likely he’d finish the year out there, then move on to Omaha next year with a chance to hit Kansas City in September. Then, the Royals swapped he and Manuel Pina, promoting Perez to Omaha and Pina to Double A. A series of moves then ended up with both players in Kansas City at once when Matt Treanor was on the disabled list and Brayan Pena was in Florida for the birth of his first child.
When Pena returned, Perez stuck around, a clear message that he’s the catcher of the future and the future is now (or, well, very soon).
In 309 plate appearances for the Naturals, Perez hit .283/.327/.427/.754 with nine homers. For the Royals, he exceeded any expectations placed on a 21-year-old catcher. He hit .331/.361/.473/.834 in 158 appearances, adding three homers.
Not bad for a catcher that most would place in the “defense-first” column.
In the minors, Perez threw out 42% of runners trying to steal. Once promoted, he only threw out 7 of the 33 who tried against him. I suspect that rate will improve as Perez gets acclimated to the big league game. His arm was on display as early as his major league debut, where he picked off Sam Fuld and Casey Kotchman.
Perez’s claim to the “catcher of the future” title was cemented when Wil Myers was moved from behind the plate. As a result, he has a chance to be a solid player for a long time, as his offensive abilities catch up to his defense. He plays the game like he’s been in the big leagues for years already.
At the plate, Perez can generate some power, but may not ever hit 20 homers. He’s more of a gap to gap hitter. He’s very difficult to strike out, doing so just 12.7% as a big leaguer and 9.7% of the time in Double A. On that note, he’s difficult to walk as well, doing so at a well below average rate. He’s very good at making contact though, and good things happen when you put the ball in play. Perez’s batting average was aided by a .368 BABIP, but, to his credit, he hit a line drive 25% of the time which is an excellent percentage.
The question is if that performance is repeatable. Perez has the tools to be an All-Star many times over, especially if he can hit consistently. If he stays anywhere around the .285 career batting average he attained in the minors, he’ll be a force.