Delvin Perez and Jose Oquendo (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The St. Louis Cardinals’ top minor league position player talent, Delvin Perez, will play next season at 18 years of age.

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2017 continues at #3 with shortstop Delvin Perez, interning with coaching legend Jose Oquendo. Details for TCN members.

http://www.scout.com/player/206019-delvin-perez?s=321

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
NA SS 12 24 98 2016 1st

Selected 2016 stats

Tm AVG BABIP AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wOBA OBP SLG OPS
GCL 0.294 0.353 163 19 48 8 0 19 12 28 12 0.353 0.352 0.393 0.745

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (4): Delvin Perez debuted at #4 during the community vote. Hoyaheel first voted for him at #2.

Hoyaheel justified his high vote, believing that Perez was considered at top five talent in the draft and has great defensive skills at shortstop. He also mentioned that Perez hit well (.353 wOBA) while just 17 years old in the Gulf Coast League. I noted that Perez had a .745 OPS to a league average of only .654 and he stole 12 bases, getting caught just once. Wileycard posted that Perez has enormous offensive upside and likened him to fellow Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa.  Brianpnoonan posted that he is torn on Perez because he is so far away from the major leagues, but likes the talent. – Jeremy Byrd

 

Derek Shore (2): Perez, who was considered a top-10 talent entering the 2016 draft, and the best shortstop available before a report leaked he had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, which caused his draft stock to diminish, led to a bold selection by the Cardinals at 23rd overall.

“There are certain things when you look at ballplayers, they remind you of big leaguers, and it’s often what they do when it doesn’t require thought,” Cardinals Scouting Director Randy Flores told reporters of Perez. “With Delvin, you saw an instinctual, reactive, athletic player with arm strength and actions that reek of a possibility of playing a premium position in a major league ballpark."

Perez, who recently-turned 18 on his November 24 birthday, became the highest MLB-drafted player from Puerto Rico since Carlos Correa went first overall in 2012. The shortstop received a $2.2 million signing bonus and hit the ground running in his pro debut, hitting .340 with a .850 OPS in his first 100 plate appearances. He had at least one hit in 19 of his first 23 games.

Along the way, the right-handed hitter accomplished a five-hit game on July 8 in addition to driving in six runs on July 20.

At that point, Perez looked like a strong candidate for the Cardinals’ third consecutive GCL batting champion and MVP, following Allen Cordoba in 2015 and Magneuris Sierra in 2014. Whether it was fatigue or a sore hamstring, Perez went only 4-for-24 the next week before GCL Cards manager Steve Turco held him out for eight games. When Perez returned to the lineup, he hit .267 in his final 14 games. He ended the season as the team leader in hits (48), triples (4) and stolen bases (12, caught only once), leading the squad to its first ever GCL title.

Though he committed 17 errors in 40 games, most were on low throws that a more experienced first baseman might have handled, according to The Cardinal Nation reporter Paul Ivice. Perez also had troubles staying under control in the field.

"This is a kid that played with a tremendous amount of confidence," Turco said. "When you draft shortstops, you look for guys that are capable of staying at that position. There were a bunch of things that he was doing that needed cleaning up defensively.

"Through work with several of our infield instructors, 'Pop' Warner, who did a really nice job with him and I think he related really well with Jose Oquendo. When he came down towards the end of the season, I think it was an immediate connection between the two of them and last few games during the playoffs he was a whole different player.

"There were times when he would get very frustrated when he made an error. He didn't like failing, and he didn't like not succeeding at the plate. This kid started out hitting close to .400, which at 17 years old early on in our season, it happens very rarely. High-school first-round picks that I've had have not done what Delvin Perez did to start the season."

Turco spoke about other aspects of Perez’ game as well.

"He did a very nice job of utilizing a good portion of the field to hit and drive the ball. Even though you are not seeing power yet, he's got tremendously strong hands. As he fills out that athletic body, I think he may hit with some power down the road.

"He's got plus speed with a desire to go ahead and run the bases. He loves to steal bases. He had difficulty sliding early on in the season, but he does head-first slides the way he steals bases.

"I think he's cleaning up defensively. Offensively, he had a heck of a year for us in his first year of pro baseball. He was a quality pick and a kid that can remain at shortstop with quick feet."

In addition to Turco's assessment, here's a rival GCL manager's impression of Perez, who stood out on the Cardinals' lowest U.S. affiliate roster in 2016.

"He really caught my attention at such a young age," the rival skipper said. "I like the way he plays - he plays loose. He played well at shortstop. Good range - his arm is average, but he moves well at shortstop. It's nice to see him at that level and perform that way.

"Hitting-wise, I liked his bat control. At the beginning of the season, we got him out with breaking balls, and he made adjustments with the season going on. With time, I think he will develop pop. I saw him driving the ball towards the gaps a lot against us, so when he gets stronger with time and experience, those doubles should become homers in the near future.

"He runs well. He's aggressive on the bases. The only thing I don't like about him is his body language, but he's so young. With more time and experience, he should get more mature and better in his overall approach. I like his tools and ability at shortstop."

From a scouting standpoint, the 6-foot-3, 175-pounder, has a lithe, lanky frame with quick-twitch athleticism and explosive raw tools which distinguished him in the draft. He has 70 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale with an efficient first step, giving him plus range to both his left and right. Perez is an instinctive defender with quick feet, smooth actions, good hands and a plus or better arm, but is still learning to harness his body control.

He can make highlight reel plays look easy, though his quick feet and powerful arm can be difficult for him to control at times. Consistency will be essential for him to synchronize his raw skills.

Despite not being as advanced offensively, Perez proved to hit well in his draft year, showing the ability to be aggressive and drive fastballs thanks to his quick bat speed and good swing plane. He was said to be a pull hitter in his pro debut with his strike zone judgment and pitch recognition skills needing work to make more consistent contact. The Puerto Rican has strong hands and forearms that allow him to hit for gap power with more in the tank via a projectable frame.

Asked if Perez will add power with maturity, the rival manager replied to the affirmative.

"I think so," he said. "I don't know if he will be a home run hitter, but he drives the ball towards the gap very good against us. When you put at least 20 or 35 more pounds in that body, I know he will develop more power as those doubles will become homers. He barreled up the ball very good against us a lot of times.

"I liked his bat control, but he needs to develop more discipline and recognition of the strike zone. That's also part of the development."

Some amateur scouts said Perez was a little immature at 17 years old, but he is a five-tool player with the potential to be an impact player with an electric glove and emerging bat. The opposing GCL manager sees an above-average regular at the major-league level.

"I want to give him about a 55 (on the 20-80 scale) in his overall approach," the manager said. "Like I said, I like his tools. I like his ability. The best thing about him is his instincts to play shortstop. I know he's a little bit immature, but with time and experience in this game, he should be able to play shortstop at the big-league level.”

Perez should start 2017 at extended spring training before reporting to Rookie-level Johnson City with an outside shot of jumping to Low-A Peoria to open the season.

 

Brian Walton (3): In many ways, little has changed since the draft. Perez remains an impressive physical talent with lingering background questions about his attitude and approach.

He only fell to the Cardinals with the 23rd pick because over half the MLB teams - all picking after where his skills seemed to place him - passed. The likely reason was a lack of maturity that was exemplified by a failed pre-draft drug test.

However, the Cardinals have assigned their very best, “The Secret Weapon,” to the case.

When arriving for instructional league camp this fall, I watched coach Jose Oquendo with special interest for several reasons. After all, it was the first time I had seen the long-time St. Louis third base coach on the job since he vacated his MLB position in March.

The stated reason for him stepping aside was dual knee surgeries, but by late September, Oquendo seemed back to normal. He was on his feet running drills during the time I was in camp, with his ever-present fungo bat, no different from any other Cardinals staffer.

My other main point of interest was quickly confirmed, as it became clear to me that the teenaged first-rounder Perez did not stray far from the side of the former MLB shortstop.

Not only do the two share a position in the field, they also both call the same area of Puerto Rico home. Oquendo was born in Rio Piedras, now a part of Perez’ birthplace of San Juan.

The pairing seems especially fitting to me. As much as Oquendo knows about playing defense, he first had to learn how to handle pressure at a very young age. He had signed with the New York Mets at just 15 years of age and debuted in the Big Apple media spotlight while still a teen. 

Two years later, in April 1985, Oquendo joined the Cardinals. It was the first trade made by then-new St. Louis general manager Dal Maxvill, who of course was the team’s regular shortstop himself during its glory days of the 1960’s.

I am quite confident that Oquendo can teach Perez all that he needs to know about playing defense. My hope is that Perez is also willing to learn from his coach about becoming a man. If so, considering the athletic potential that Perez holds, his success could become Oquendo’s crowning achievement. (In this photo, another Cardinals legend, Willie McGee, stands between the two.)

Delvin Perez, Willie McGee, Jose Oquendo (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The two will have the month of March to again work closely together on a daily basis. I cannot help but wonder if  the organization’s decision whether to push Perez to the Midwest League in April will have more to do with where Perez’ head is than the state of his arm, legs and bat.

Initially, I projected Allen Cordoba to open the season at short for Peoria. However, considering he is in San Diego via the Rule 5 Draft for the foreseeable future, the Midwest League door seems wide open for Perez – if he proves he is ready. State College star shortstop Tommy Edman (our #36 prospect, as you may recall), can easily slide over to second base, if need be.

It seems most unlikely that Perez will debut in the majors at 19 like Oquendo, but there is no reason he couldn’t reach St. Louis by 21, just as his new mentor once did (in a round-about path). We will have a lot better feel once Perez gets on the field again in 2017.

TCN Scouting Grade: 8, Risk: High (click here to review scales)

Perez represents the most extreme case in any of my scouting grades this year. He shares an eight grade (elite talent) ceiling, with just one other player, yet to be unveiled. (You should be able guess who that will be.) However, his high risk reflects the miles that remain from where Perez is today to his name being written onto the MLB lineup card.

Our 2017 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. Thank you for being a member!

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