Diamondbacks Catcher Michael Perez Slugging His Way into Big Picture
By Josh Burke
Diamondbacks minor league catcher Michael Perez is a left-handed slugger who will turn 26 years old this August. He’s coming into his own as a player on a D-backs team that earlier this year committed millions of dollars addressing its catching situation for the next two seasons.
After drafting Michael Perez in the 5th round of 2011’s draft, the Diamondbacks sent him to Rookie Arizona League that summer where all he did was launch two homers in just seven games.
Perez followed his home run happy debut with an absolutely more dominating sophomore run in 2012. He powered through the Pioneer Rookie League in his first full season finishing with 10 HR, 60 RBI, and a .900 OPS in only 58 games. All while throwing out runners 52% of the time.
In 2013, Perez ranked as Arizona’s 10th best on MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Watch. According to the experts, he showed a sweet left-handed power stroke and strong arm behind the plate, but needed to improve his catching game at that time.
It seemed like his prospect train was rolling along just fine. Unfortunately for Perez, the wheels started to come off the rails. At Class A, Michael hit well in the season’s first half, but not as well as the year before. Regardless of that fact, midway through the 2013 season, Perez was rushed to Class A-Advanced where his hitting suffered as a result of the premature promotion.
Perez had disappeared from Arizona’s Top 20 prospects by 2014. That year he was given another full season to develop back down in Class A. He seemed on track as a top prospect once more, finishing the season with a sizable improvement of .071 OPS over the year before.
By the time 2015 rolled around, Perez had toiled in the Arizona system for four seasons and had seen his peers rapidly promoted. Some, like Archie Bradley, were racing through the minor league levels and a few, such as Jake Lamb and Andrew Chafin, had even reached the Show. Perhaps his frustration at beginning again at Class A was too much for the young catcher. For whatever reason, Perez entered into a two-year funk that took him out of the top prospect conversation completely.
Since being selected from vocational school in San Juan, Puerto Rico as a wiry 18-year-old, Perez’s body has gradually strengthened. In 2017, the seven years of added muscle seem to finally be working for him.
Last season in AAA and AA combined, Perez upped his RBI total by 16 and increased his OPS by 0.178 points compared to his respective totals in 2016.
Perez carried that mojo into his first game with Salt River in the most recent Arizona Fall League, going 2-2. He knocked in two runs on a double and threw out a runner trying to steal, but had the team’s only error that day, letting a ball pass him by.
After his hot AFL start, Perez’s bat fizzled the rest of the way. He looked outmatched at the plate. As a result of his struggles, he earned less playing time, amounting to a .208 AVG in 53 at-bats.
Every player matures at different paces, but hopefully Perez’s development was not stunted in those clumsily managed in-between years. He stated in an AFL video interview that the real reason his offensive numbers declined was due to him focusing on catching and defense for two years in 2015 to 2016 when playing for the Class A Advanced Visalia Rawhide.
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He credits the persistence of his manager and 2015 California League Manager of the Year J.R. House with his development behind the plate during that time.
However, with one of Arizona’s richest deals, Alex Avila’s presence creates a roadblock keeping Perez from the Diamondbacks starting catcher’s job any time in the near future. Earlier this winter, the D-backs signed Avila to a two-year contract that will see him paid around $4 million per year.
Compounding matters are the three other catchers already on Arizona’s roster. In addition to Avila, the Diamondbacks have Jeff Mathis, Chris Herrmann, and John Ryan Murphy.
Mathis is a veteran right-handed hitter in the final year of a 2 year/$4 million pact. With his expiring contract and the team’s glut at the position, Mathis is a prime trade candidate.
Herrmann, yet another left-handed slugging catcher, avoided arbitration with Arizona in January. The team has committed $1.3 million to Herrmann this year and they can control him through next year.
Michael Perez is a former top Diamondbacks prospect that looks ready for a breakout season. However, Arizona appears particularly set at the catcher position already.
Arizona might view Perez as a depth piece providing insurance against injury. The team could also trade one or more of their surplus catchers at some point. Maybe Perez gets leveraged as a trade chip to get the D-backs over the hump at the non-waiver deadline. If Perez does get his shot this season, it could be with another team in another city.
Nevertheless, as a Spring Training invitee, Perez is attempting to prove he’s ready for his cup of coffee this year. A long shot to break camp with Arizona’s big league club, he’s not even currently protected on their 40-man roster.
Always seeming to get off to a hot start, Perez blasted a three-run shot in the Diamondbacks first Spring Training game this year. Stuck behind at least four Arizona catchers on the depth chart, Perez’s future with this team is unknown. If he keeps rapping home runs like he did in the Spring opener, though, his future will surely be bright. Perez may only need a team that can give him his chance to shine on baseball’s highest level.
Next: Deep D-back Roster Fuels Trade
Michael Perez appears to have righted the ship by improving his catching game first. With sage advice, a former skipper helped him round into a better player on both sides of the ball. Following some turbulent years, Perez is in line to get a major league call up before season’s end. It remains to be seen if it’ll happen as a member of the D-backs or another opportunistic MLB franchise.