Perez Having Breakout Season

Though they don’t all see MLB action, catching depth is handy to have for any MLB organization which is way many who play the position often bounce around among different organizations after they’ve played in the minors long enough for free agency. Cincinnati picked up Rossmel Perez before this season and thus far he’s doing an impressive job at AA Pensacola.

Pensacola was locked in a scoreless tie through six innings Monday until visiting Mobile broke through for a run in the seventh and added five more the next frame. The Blue Wahoos finally scored when Rossmel Perez cracked a three-run homer against his former team in the ninth, but the Bay Bears held on for a 6-3 win. Perez led his team offensively with two of their five hits and also reached on a walk.

On the mound Ben Lively took a loss for a nice outing, allowing one run on two hits in six innings while striking out four. He did that in spite of struggling to find the plate as he walked seven including the first two batters in the seventh. Carlos Gonzalez relieved him with a scoreless inning but one of his inherited runners scored on a sac fly. Scott Maine and Fabio Castillo combined for two innings to finish the game and the pair was roughed up for five runs, all unearned.

Pensacola has been struggling through a 41-60 season thus far but that hasn’t stopped Perez from having a breakout season. It’s the 24 year-old catcher’s first one in the Cincinnati organization after playing seven years in the Arizona system starting when he was in the Dominican League at the age of sixteen. He may be a minor league journeyman still in AA but that hasn’t stopped him from slashing a line of .327 AVG/ .382 OB/ .460 SLG with four home runs. That is also on the rise because over his last eight games he’s gone 10-23 (.434) with three walks.

Previously his best season was in 2007 when he cracked .300 in the DSL in 2007 which earned him a ticket stateside the next year. After that he’s hit at every stop, taking two seasons to advance out of high-A. Overall he has a .270 AVG/.352 OB in 626 minor league games. 2014 is his third in AA, but his age is still not too bad for the level.

Perez has a catcher’s build at 5’9”/200# and bats left-handed. He doesn’t project much power, never hitting more than five homers in a season and that was in the California League. However he boasts incredible plate discipline and contact skills. Incredibly he’s walked more times than he’s struck out in each of the past four seasons while putting up the .080’ AVG/OB differential in his lifetime total. To put it succinctly, he brings a small strike zone to the plate, makes pitchers find it before he swings, and puts wood on the ball when they do.

He’s also developed a reputation of good defensive skills behind the plate. He’s only thrown out 17% of runners this season, but that’s likely to increase because he’s gunned down 37% lifetime including 38% while at Mobile last year. He’s had problems allowing passed balls in the past including 22 in 2011, but there’s been improvement to that and he’s given up only 17 total over the next three seasons.

A lefty hitting catcher with good defense, excellent contact, and knows the way to first is usually a recipe for advancement. The first thing Perez needs to do is look at who’s blocking him at AAA. Right now the Louisville roster doesn’t look like it’s going to provide any openings behind the plate any time soon. Tucker Barnhart, the top rated receiver in the Reds system gets most of the action when he’s not with the parent team. 27 year-old Brian Anderson, another catcher in his first year in the Reds system, is hitting .301 for the Bats since he was promoted from Pensacola earlier this season. There’s also 38 year-old Corky Miller who is currently on the DL and it’s not likely that anything less than a stick of dynamite would remove him from the Louisville roster. Miller is a candidate for retirement, but he’s been with the Bats for two stints totaling ten seasons, so don’t hold your breath.

That’s not to say there isn’t a AAA job for Perez somewhere in the near future. Given his skills and age he projects as a back-up catcher at the major league level. If Barnhart was not in the way it’s easy to see him providing a left-handed bat to compliment all-star Devin Mesoraco someday. Still, extra catchers are handy to have around and Perez is showing that he’s ready for the highest minor league level. Time will tell if that happens in the Cininnati system as he looks to continue strengthening his resume over the second half of this season.

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