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September 05, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) connects for a double in the sixth inning of the game against the Texas Rangers at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Salvador Perez and Expectations

Since showing up in the big leagues, Salvador Perez has done nothing wrong.  Over and over you will hear people gush about minor leaguers who are still unblemished, and how they will be great, but Salvador’s path has been quite different.  He was signed as a free agent in 2006, and didn’t even show up as a prospect of any note until after he was up for the Royals and playing.  His under the radar ability stemmed partly from the immense amount of talent in the farm system prior to 2011.  At that time he was in the late teens and early twenties for prospect rankings of the Royals’ system, but for most farm systems he would have been higher.  Still, I saw no one projecting him to be called up in 2011, and no one touting him as an impact player in the near future.  A few had started projecting him as a big league starter at that point, since Baseball America had him projected as the 2014 starting catcher, but mostly he was just a young guy working his way through the system.

In 2011 Salvador emerged late in the year, and began his career by picking a couple of guys off while oozing moxie in his first game.  Since then he has continued to impress.  Only an injury last year and his rather large body give reason for concern.  What should we expect out of him this year, and in the long-term?  We know a few things.  He is really slow, and base running is never going to be a strength.  He is a catcher, so that is not unusual.  We also know that he hates people that can run the bases.  Last year he had 18 caught stealing on 43 attempts (41.9% caught), and 53 total assists in half a season.  He has a huge arm, and he is not afraid to use it.  Defensively he is not a concern, except whether or not a tall guy like him can stick at catcher.  His bat has also been really good, so let’s talk about that some too.

If you pull stats on catchers who have had big starts to their career under the age of 22 like Sal, then you get a nice feeling about his long-term potential.  So, for instance, I went to Fangraphs for a ranking of catchers in their 21 and 22 year-old seasons in the expansion era by wRC+.  Look at the list of catchers that had above average production with the bat:

#

Name

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

1

Johnny Bench

1263

0.293

0.349

0.54

136

2

Brian McCann

696

0.317

0.376

0.523

128

3

Rob Brantly

113

0.29

0.372

0.46

125

4

Earl Williams

574

0.264

0.328

0.494

124

5

Jerry Moses

163

0.307

0.331

0.497

124

6

Ted Simmons

1192

0.303

0.341

0.446

121

7

Joe Torre

804

0.29

0.351

0.42

120

8

Salvador Perez

463

0.311

0.339

0.471

119

9

Darrell Porter

906

0.247

0.343

0.413

115

10

Joe Mauer

676

0.297

0.371

0.44

114

11

Bill Freehan

917

0.279

0.343

0.434

112

12

Benito Santiago

637

0.299

0.322

0.467

109

13

B.J. Surhoff

445

0.299

0.35

0.423

103

14

Ron Karkovice

109

0.247

0.315

0.443

102

15

Jason Kendall

471

0.3

0.372

0.401

101

16

Ivan Rodriguez

924

0.283

0.335

0.445

101

These, along with a few other names, are the ones that continue to show up time and again if you look for Salvador Perez comps.  HOFers like Johnny Bench and Gary Carter (and Ivan Rodriguez assuming steroid era issues don’t keep him out), near HOFers like Joe Torre, the best of today in Brian McCann and Joe Mauer, and a whole lot of really productive players to go along with them.  If you look at him over this same time period for ages 21 and 22 he is 25th in plate appearances among catchers, but 15th in HRs, 2nd in Avg., 5th in SLG., and 8th in wOBA.  I tried setting PAs between 300 and 600 to get rid of those who already had more than a full season under their belt by this point of their career, but Salvador dominates that group with the best average, second best slug, and second best wOBA.  It is hard not to get excited about this guy being on the Royals for the next seven years (thank you ridiculously team friendly contract).

Right now what we are all focused on is 2013, so though it is hard not to drool over the potential of a catcher who can hit for average and power and play plus defense, what about this year?  First I looked at projections.

Season Team

HR

BB%

K%

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

wOBA

2012

Royals

11

3.90%

8.90%

0.299

0.301

0.328

0.471

0.34

2013

Steamer

11

4.70%

9.40%

0.281

0.272

0.309

0.416

0.313

2013

Bill James

16

4.00%

9.20%

0.306

0.299

0.329

0.456

0.336

2013

Oliver

14

4.70%

12.00%

0.304

0.285

0.321

0.433

0.324

Fangraphs has these posted, and ZIPS is somewhere between Steamer and Bill James.  That means three out of four projection systems are all expecting some average regression, but a decently similar OBP, and a little less slug.  Also, you will note similar homer totals to last year despite getting a full season.  Part of that is due to a 13% HR/FB rate last year that is probably a little high, but I was a little surprised to see no one projecting him in the 20 range for home runs in the coming season.  Projections are by nature conservative though, so I tend to like what I see.  That is an above average hitter and defender at a premium defensive position.  It puts him in the 3 to 5 WAR range for this year (which will pretty much pay for his entire contract of the next seven years if it happens).  Even if Perez has to move off of catcher due to his size/knees (Hosmer insurance?), his bat might end up being big enough to play anywhere if the power continues to develop.

Going beyond projections I went and looked at catchers from the previous lists I generated, and how they did in their age 23 season using Baseball-Reference.  Those in the same range of plate appearances seemed to take steps back in that year (ex. BJ Surhoff and Michael Barrett), but those players didn’t flash the power Perez did prior to that year.  The one in the group that stood out as taking a step forward was Jason Kendall who went .294/.391/.434, but once again may not be a good power comparison.  The others had more time in the majors prior to their 23 year season.  I tried to stick to those flashing power prior to age 23, but not crazy like Johnny Bench who is a bad comp for humans in general.  Guys like Benito Santiago, McCann, and Bill Freehan struggled at 23 while Pudge and Ted Simmons put up lines similar to the projections for Salvador.  None of these seem to be very conclusive, but they make me wary that the 3+ WAR projections might be closer to the top end (at least the hitting component) for this season rather than a middle point.

It is also possible that trying to look at comparisons of 21 and 22 year-old catchers who have been really good is a small sample size issue, especially when you need 4+ decades of data to get enough players to do much of anything.  All in all it is hard for me to see a scenario where Salvador does not provide at least a league average bat and high caliber defense for 2013 unless there is another injury.  If his average drops 20 points and his power is more doubles than home runs we should all still be very excited about the years to come. The more I look at it I am expecting even more than that in the future, while feeling that we are little optimistic about the present.  This year I am going to try and keep my expectations for him a little in check and hope mostly for a full, injury free season.

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