Is This the Year for Perez?

Felix Perez was once a high-visibility prospect. The biggest thing that has hindered his minor league career was discovery of his real age. He hit well in AAA last season in only his third professional season and even though he's closer to 30 than he is 25 it doesn't mean he can't play. Continued improvement could force him into consideration for a LH bat off the bench as a utility OF.

Countdown to opening day: 3 days. Cuban defector Felix Perez was making headlines before his professional debut, though not in a complimentary way. In 2009 he was a high profile signing when the Yankees inked him to a $3 million deal. MLB later voided that contract and handed him a one year suspension for falsifying his age. One year later Cincinnati landed him for $550,000 after reinstatement.

With age a concern he shot up the lower levels during his first professional season beginning in the Dominican League and ending in AA. His bat was up to the task and he finished with an overall average of .322/.381 OB. Those stats were against younger competition and perhaps beginning his second season at AA was a bit too ambitious. Even though his numbers were pedestrian he still got a cup of coffee at Louisville to end the season.

Beginning one's professional career with a suspension and a $2.5 million bonus reduction is not an enviable position but there are ways to overcome it. One way is by hitting. Offense was scarce at Louisville last year when the Bats scored the fewest runs per game with the lowest batting average in the International League. One bright spot was Perez who finished strong and cracked .300. Now even though he's 28 years old, 2013 will be only his third professional season so it remains to be seen how much upside is left in his game.

Perez was kind of a forgotten man in the Reds season-long search last year for a fifth outfielder and left-handed bat off the bench. Eventually that role was filled by Xavier Paul who came into the system after starting out the season in Washington's. Paul thrived in a reserve role after getting a call-up from the Reds in mid-July which will most likely earn him a spot on their opening day roster next week. Still, there's a reason he's bounced around in four organizations since the 2004 draft and if he falters Perez might be more successful this season at getting consideration.

Defensively he's got the versatility for a utility outfielder and can play all three positions. Last year he had enough arm strength to throw out sixteen runners in 111 games. Back in the days when Perez was a higher rated prospect many hailed him as a five tool talent. If hitting for power is part of his game he's kept it hidden thus far and slugged around .400. His plate discipline last year was more like a second year pro than a 27 year-old, but his modest walk rate has seen improvement from season to season. He's also struggled against southpaws, but improved over the second half of 2012.

Also included in his reputation is a strong work ethic which means that further improvement is within the realm of possibility. 28 is not the optimal age to make a MLB debut but it doesn't mean he can't help someone win some games. Players at that age in the minors are more often "hangers-on" instead of "up-and-comers" but there is good reason to believe that Perez is the latter. He's gotten only three AB's in spring training this year which is an indication that he's not in the Reds plans for any time soon. He did manage to get two hits out of them and if he keeps handling the bat well he may force his name into conversations later.

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