Hey…I’m just the (Backup) Catcher
The backup catcher spot was a revolving door in the first half of the 2014 season. Former starting catcher Carlos Santana (playing third base at the time) was the original backup catcher behind Yan Gomes. Then journeyman George Kottaras got a shot for a short while before the job went back to Santana. Kottaras eventually got another shot for a brief while before Roberto Perez finally got the call just before the All-Star break. While he didn’t get many opportunities, he did show some positives signs heading into the 2015 season. So who is Roberto Perez and what can/should be expected of him in 2015?
Roberto Perez was never a highly touted prospect. He was the 1011th player drafted in the 2008 MLB Draft. His calling card throughout the minors has always been his defense. He’s pretty much unanimously viewed as an above average defensive catcher. In his six minor league seasons he threw out 38% of would be base stealers (Gomes threw out 30% in his five minor league seasons). He didn’t miss a beat in the big leagues as he threw out 36% of would be base-stealers (league average was 27%). Starter Yan Gomes, albeit in way more playing time, threw out 32% and has a career 35% mark at the big league level. This combined with the rest of his work behind the plate helped Roberto Perez to a 0.9 dWAR in just 29 games. While small sample sizes can often times lead to misinformation, in the case of Roberto Perez it was more a reaffirmation of just how good he is defensively behind the plate.
While defense is Roberto Perez’s calling card, he has shown recently that he’s not just a one-trick pony. He made the AAA All-Star team in 2014, while batting .305/.405/.517 with 8 home runs and a .213 ISO that would make Santana and Gomes proud. While the power was pretty surprising, his OBP and BB% were both consistent with what he’s shown throughout his minor league career. In fact, his 13.9% walk rate at AAA was actually a tad on the low-side as his career walk rate in the minors was 15.2%. That skill didn’t quite translate to the big leagues though he did manage a .311 OBP, which is in line with fellow catcher Gomes (.313) and Indians leadoff hitter Michael Bourn (.314). While minor league numbers don’t guarantee anything in the big leagues, it’s within reason to expect Perez to improve on his walk rates to get at least somewhat closer to what he showed in the minors, though this may be tough given his expected lack of playing time.
Offensively things aren’t quite as rosy heading into 2015 as with his defense. While he’s always showed a knack for walking and getting on base (career .363 OBP in the minors) he has struggled at times hitting, as he hit only .236 in the minors. His 2014 AAA numbers were greatly propped up by a .388 BABIP, which would be high for anyone but in Perez’s case was exceptionally high as only once was his BABIP ever over .300 for a full season (.304 in 2011). That “luck” carried over to his time with the Indians as he managed to bat .271 thanks to a super-inflated .379 BABIP. Unless Perez has found a magic lamp and has a few more wishes, those numbers are going to come down in 2015 and with it his batting average. For Perez to remain an effective offensive player he’ll need his walk-rate to bounce back to counteract the all but certain drop in batting average. Like all young players, he’ll need to make the proper adjustments during year two in the big leagues.
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Bottom line, the backup catcher position is one of the most boring roster spots on the entire roster (rivaling the long-man in the bullpen). However, every team needs one (as witnessed last year by Santana’s early season struggles) and with such a demanding position, it helps to have one that can actually provide some value if forced into some kind of leading role. Roberto Perez showed flashes of what has made him so valuable and, are I say, somewhat exciting in the eyes of some (myself included). Ideally though Perez rarely sees the field, though if the unspeakable happens and the Indians are forced to turn to Perez to spell Gomes, the Indians and fans alike should feel confident that Roberto Perez is up to the task in 2015.