Can Sal Perez Save Your Catching Situation?

June 25, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) singles in a run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the third inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE

On Friday in Kansas City, catcher Salvador Perez made his return from his spring training injury where he tore his meniscus in his left knee. Following surgery and about 10 weeks of physical therapy, he was back in the minors on a rehab stint.

Following the two month tease Perez provided at the end of 2011, fantasy owners were no doubt looking to Perez to pack a full season of punch behind the dish in 2012. Sadly, the knee injury forced some owners to head for Plan B. Never ideal when discussing catchers.

Now he’s back with the Royals and ready to catch (and hit). Is he going to be worth the wait?

Perez comes armed with an amazing defensive reputation. It’s well earned. Of course, we don’t really concern ourselves with backstop defense when we set our fantasy lineups. However, sometimes we should. Perez is such a defensive talent, he’s going to be in the lineup every day for Kansas City, offensive production be damned. Fortunately for fantasy owners, he looks like he is developing into an offensive force.

We know that catcher is a lean position for offensive production, but perhaps Perez can provide some bang or the buck. Last season for the Royals he hit .331 with 13 extra base hits (three home runs) and 21 RBI in just over 150 plate appearances. Those numbers were incredible, given that prior to arriving in Kansas City he had a grand total of 49 plate appearances above Double-A. And entering the 2011 season his career line in the minors was around .280 with just 20 home runs in roughly 1,350 plate appearances.

He’s off to a strong start in Kansas City, hitting .333 with a home run in his first three games.

Last season his success was due to a combination of a strong contact rate of around 85 percent and an amazingly high line drive rate of just over 29 percent. For a player like Perez, who swings at a bunch of pitches, his performance comes with all sorts of flashing red lights that warn of small sample sizes.

Indeed, Perez is one of those "grip it and rip it" types of hitters. His walk rate in the minors rarely topped five percent, but his whiff rate was usually around 10 percent. As you probably know from my writing here, I’m not a huge fan of these type of contact hitters. Yes, they’re good a putting the bat on the ball, but that high contact rate comes at a price: Not all contact is created equal. Chasing a pitcher’s pitch - one that is outside the strike zone - usually hands the advantage back to the pitcher.

In Perez’s case last year, his aggressive approach worked. Despite a contact rate of 83 percent on pitches outside the strike zone (compared to the league average of a 68 percent contact rate) Perez had that high line drive rate. That led to a .362 BABIP. Luck? The line drive rate won’t let me say that. However, I will say that with his approach, that BABIP, along with the batting average is unsustainable over the course of a full season.

The power production may take some time to develop. In his professional career (dating back to 2007 as a 17 year old in rookie ball) last season was the first time he’d topped double digits in home runs. However, his home run total has increased in each of his first five professional seasons. And the guy is only 21 years old. The kid looks to develop a strong power stroke. In fact, he hit a bomb in his 2012 major league debut last weekend.

The Royals are going to go to great lengths to protect their investment. He caught in back to back games on Sunday and Monday, but it’s unlikely they’ll let him go three in a row this early. Look for him to catch about four games a week for the next month or so as he gradually makes his full-time return.

Perez may not have premium value now, so if you’re in a league that resets every year, unless he’s a clear upgrade, you shouldn’t bother. However, if you’re in a keeper league and for some reason he’s available, don’t leave him on the waiver wire for too long. He’s going to be one of the good one’s in the very near future.

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