So Salvador Perez really is not a prospect anymore per se. He made his big league debut last year for the Kansas City Royals to relatively little fan fair and then signed a nice big contract extension recently this offseason. After arriving in the majors, he promptly hit .331 with a .361 wOBA in 158 PA. Obviously the low amount of plate appearances leaves little room for drawing conclusions about Perez’s ability. For instance, I can probably say pretty safely that he will not hit .331 or higher next season with more appearances. However, there is still plenty to like about the 21 year old catcher.
Even after a mini breakout in his 2010 minor league season, Perez still struggled for notoriety. He made it up to the 18th spot on Marc Hulet’s Kansas City Royals prospect rankings for 2011 but that was hardly awe inspiring even in a very deep Royals system. So his 2011 season both in the minors and majors may have caught more than one or two people by surprise.
Perez’s lack of attention prior to this past season is somewhat shocking. After all he is 6’3” 230 lbs. A big athletic frame alone is usually worth attention. It is worth even more attention when you consider that he has consistently rated as a high grade defensive catcher. It is worth even more attention when you consider the fact that instead of a long swing prone to strikeouts, Perez has a relatively compact swing with excellent contact ability. In fact, Perez’s 12.2% K rate (K/PA) in AAA before he arrived in the majors last year was his highest ever in the minor leagues. Perez manages strike outs very well and puts the ball in play even in the major leagues as seen by his 12.7% K against superior pitching.
However, the ability to put the ball in play is not everything. Although his K rate is low, it is similar to players like Nick Punto from this past season. Putting the ball in play only matters if you can at least occasionally drive the ball. That said, Salvador Perez is not Nick Punto. Litte Nicky is only 5’9” and is listed at 190 lbs although I suspect that is a slight exaggeration. Salvador’s frame alone gives high hope that his power could eventually catch up with his contact skills. Power is generally the last ‘tool’ to arrive for prospects and Perez has ample ceiling for a lot of it to come his way.
Due to his defense alone Perez has been compared favorably with Yadier Molina. Now Molina is one of the finest defensive catchers the game has seen; I would be amazed if Perez could reach the same level. In addition, to this point Yadier has limited his K’s better and walked more than Perez. However, Molina is only working with a 5’11” frame and perhaps not surprisingly, the power is just not there.
With all of that said, Perez still has some question marks. Perez cannot take a walk. His 4.4% BB rate was abysmal and, unfortunately, it was right in line with his minor league production. Furthermore, Perez features an unflattering 1.42 GB/FB hit distribution albeit in a small sample in the majors. Despite his high LD rate last season, Perez had featured a BABIP around or below .300 for a number of stops in the minors. Despite his contact ability, if Perez is simply going to take defensive swings, not drive the ball, and put it on the ground, the power might never develop to its full potential and he may struggle to maintain a high batting average. In other words, his batted ball profile indicates he could feasibly bottom out as Molina type with a bit more power and a slightly better average.
However, I like to think of Salvador in a bit more flattering light, perhaps because I just love the upside of players like him when they can already bring the glove. To be sure, this is his absolute ceiling in my opinion, but it was not long ago one could have said many of the same negatives about Robinson Cano. Cano has never taken many walks. In his first full season, he walked less than Perez with a 2.9% BB rate in 2005. In addition, Cano also has a nasty habit of putting the ball on the ground a lot with a career 1.51 GB/FB ratio. Finally, Cano does feature great contact skills with a career 11.5% K rate. The difference between Cano and a guy like Molina is simply that Cano features a powerful 6’ frame from which he can generate ample bat speed to drive the ball with authority. In addition to having a career 19.7% LD rate, Cano also has plenty of extra base hits with a career .188 ISO. The margins are really just that small in the majors and a powerful frame can be the difference from an ok major league hitter to a great major league hitter.
Perez has displayed an ISO from .120 to .140 in the minors and that could very well increase in the majors as he ages. However, his batted ball profile is indicative of a guy with a lower than average LD rate and lower than average speed. The reality is, Perez probably has only a small chance of developing into a player of Cano’s caliber with the bat. However, I like the Molina comparisons. In fact, I think Perez stands a very good chance of developing into a more valuable player than Molina as a catcher with slightly inferior defense and a superior bat.