Perez’s size, work ethic leads to success

Too big to fail.

That seems to be how managers, coaches and scouts feel about Royals catcher Salvador Perez’s career.

“A guy with his size (6-feet-3, 250 pounds) and his athletic ability and his work ethic,” said one Royals scout, “Simply don’t fail. He’s that special and rare combination.”

Said Royals manager Ned Yost, “I’ve been in this game a long time. I’ve seen hundreds of catchers come through and I’ve never seen one like him. He’s a very, very rare find.”

It seems easy to forget now how Perez shot through the higher levels of the Royals’ system to become their starting catcher, and, their catcher of the future.
Just a year ago at this time, Perez was still experiencing his first taste of Class AA ball. Then he got a quick promotion to Triple-A. Two weeks later, he was in the big leagues.

To stay.

This is the same catcher who in 2009 was demoted back to the rookie league in Idaho Falls after a disappointing stint at Class A.

But it was that year – 2009 – that turned his career around.

“It was hard (being demoted) but I worked harder than I ever did before,” Perez said.

Perez hit .309 after going back to Idaho Falls, and then hit .290 at high-A ball in Wilmington, Del., in 2010.

Then, of course, came last year’s meteoric rise.

Players aren’t suppose to shoot through Double-A and Triple-A in four months and become everyday catchers in the big leagues. It’s not supposed to work that way.

Or is it?

“Take a look at him,” Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer said, laughing. “Look at the size of him. Look at how big he is and how agile he is. Look at what he can do with the bat. You can’t keep a guy like that in the minors.”

Too big to fail.

But if Perez’s rapid ascent to the big leagues seems astonishingly quick to the rest of us, it didn’t to him.

“You think that was fast?” he asked. “It took me over five years (in the minors). That doesn’t seem fast to me.”

Not even the quick two-step through Double-A and Triple-A?

“I spent a lot of years it seemed in the lower minors,” he said. “Minor-league ball is minor-league ball. You learn at every stop. But it didn’t seem fast to me. I was ready. Other guys have gotten to the big leagues faster.”

Not many under general manager Dayton Moore’s watch. Moore is fond of saying he would rather be a month or two late in promoting prospects rather than a month or two early.

“In Sal’s case, he was ready maybe even before we called him up,” Moore said. “But that’s just because he is a very mature young man. And physically, he has matured, too.”

That maturation process impresses everyone around him.

“He is way beyond his age (22) in terms of knowing the game,” Seitzer said. “He lives it and breathes it. He’s always talking about defense or, with me, hitting. He’s always making adjustments.”

Perez has a simple explanation for his thirst for knowledge.

“I have to,” he said. “I have to learn from everyone up here or you don’t last. You work hard but you have to learn while you’re working.”

Most Royals observers knew about Perez’s exceptional defensive skills and howitzer arm. What stunned everyone is how easy Perez made the transition offensively to the major leagues. He hit .331 in 39 games and was anything but overmatched as a rookie.

After suffering a knee injury in spring training that forced him out for almost half of this season, Perez has bounced back and continued to hit with authority. He has five homers in 29 games and is hitting .320.

Seitzer said we shouldn’t be all that surprised.

“He’s as fundamentally sound as anyone on our team,” Seitzer said. “I mean that. He has very few moving parts to his swing so there is less potential for him to break down.”

Seitzer admits he has no idea what Perez’s offensive ceiling might be. Perez could be a guy who hits 30 homers. He could be a guy who hits .350.

“He’s just a baby,” Seitzer said. “He’s still learning. He’s growing into that big body. We don’t know what it will be. But it will be good. I’m sure of that.”

Moore was convinced of that, too, which is why he locked Perez up this spring to a five-year deal worth $7 million that additionally has three club-option years, meaning the Royals have control of Perez for eight years.

“You just don’t find many guys in today’s game with Sal’s skill set,” Moore said. “We’re very happy to have him here hopefully for a long time.”