Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 55: Roberto Perez
Bob Toth | On 09, Feb 2016
As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 55 days
The Cleveland Indians found out very early on last season the importance of having quality depth at the catching position when starting catcher Yan Gomes was knocked out of action during the first week of the season.
Thankfully, Roberto Perez stepped up and answered the call for the club and gave the Indians some consistency at the backstop.
The path to the Majors was a long climb and did not come without its fair share of complications for the 27-year-old catcher, who will enter his third year on the Indians roster this season.
He was selected by Cleveland with the 1,011th pick overall in the 2008 draft, selected in the 33rd round out of Florida Gateway College in Lake City, Florida, two years after being picked in the 29th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
When Perez made his debut on July 10, 2014, against the New York Yankees, he became the first player selected and signed by the Tribe in the 33rd round of the June drafts to reach the Majors with the club. Three other selections (Jensen Lewis, 2002; Andy Sheets, 1989, and Dave Augustine, 1968) who were selected in the round by the Indians eventually made it to the Majors, but none signed with Cleveland after their selections and only Lewis eventually played with the Tribe after being selected in the third round by the team three years later.
Perez made the most of his Major League debut in what was the final game of the storied career of Derek Jeter at Progressive Field. Hitting in the ninth spot in the lineup and starting behind the plate, he went 2-for-3. After grounding out in his first at bat, he walked in his second plate appearance. He singled and later scored in the seventh inning for his first hit and run of his career, then followed with a homer in the next inning that required a replay review, preventing him from getting the customary trot around the bases. The hit was initially ruled as a double until it was overturned into his home run.
“I was shaking. It was awesome,” Perez shared in an interview with Did The Tribe Win Last Night on September 17, 2015. “Getting that first hit, it was really cool. If you love the game of baseball, to get to play against the best players in the world…that means a lot. I’m glad I did.
“You get that first homer and you want to go around the bases. And actually, the umpire called it a double so I had to stand at second base. And then finally, they reviewed it and called it a homer.”
Perez hit .271 with five doubles, a homer, and four RBI during his debut season, appearing in 29 games while making 25 starts. He earned a .988 fielding percentage behind the plate and threw out eight of 22 would be base stealers for a strong 36.4% caught stealing percentage.
With the injury to Gomes early on in 2015, Perez was the starter for six weeks and played in 70 games, making 61 starts. He had a .993 fielding percentage for the year and threw out 18 of 43 base stealers, good for a 41.9% rate of throwing out speedsters. It ranked second among American League catchers for the year. His range factor behind the plate, both per game and per nine innings, was tops in the league.
At the plate, he hit .228 with nine doubles, a triple, seven homers, and drove in 21 runs. He was sixth in the league among catchers with his 33 walks, which included two separate three-walk games.
Perez has attributed some of his success with the Indians to first base coach and catching coach, Sandy Alomar.
“It’s nice to have a guy like that on the team. Sandy meant a lot to this organization, and the city too,” said Perez. “He’s a great guy and a hard worker. He always stays on top of me trying to work with me. It’s a pleasure and an honor to have him here. Hopefully we continue to have him here coaching me, close to me. He’s helping, he’s why we’ve been doing so good on defense. I just hope he continues to work with the youth. He’s a great guy.”
Perez shared at the time that one of the things he had improved upon was his “pop time”, the time it takes a catcher to receive the ball and throw down to second base. He indicated he was routinely in the 1.82-1.87 range.
Perez had struggled during the 2013 season, when it was later determined that he was suffering from Bell’s palsy, a paralysis or weakness of the muscles on one side of the face. As a result, he was unable to close his left eye.
“He literally could not close his eye for months,” said Ross Atkins, then director of Indians minor league development in an April 27, 2014, story on Cleveland.com. “He had to put a patch over it to try and sleep. It really affected his ability to see the ball for months.
“The whole time he was in Columbus [in 2013], he had Bell’s palsy…It was a slow and gradual improvement.”
The club considered putting him on the disabled list to tend to the condition, but left it up to Perez. Despite dealing with being unable to blink, dryness in the cornea, and both physical and mental fatigue, Perez played through it.
During the offseason, Perez has participated in the Roberto Clemente League in Puerto Rico, named in honor of his childhood idol. It was his seventh consecutive season playing for his hometown Mayaquez club, Los Indios, in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
He also enjoys a chance to be back home with family and friends.
“When I go home, I spend time with my family, which is my mom and my brother, my younger brother,” said Perez. “I spend time with them and then I get ready to start working, start going to the gym again and start getting ready for the next season. I hang out with friends. It’s hard to be over here [in the United States] for six, seven months, maybe more because you have spring training, too. It’s nice to be home. I miss all the people. But we’ve got to take care of business first.”
The catching depth in the farm system is limited and with the beating catchers can take at the plate over the course of a season, having Perez on the roster and healthy makes the Indians a stronger team. Cleveland has brought in free agents Adam Moore and Anthony Recker on minor league deals with spring training invites and has minor leaguer Tony Wolters on the 40-man roster, but Perez’s numbers over the last season and a half make him the strongest option on the club to back up Gomes in the case of another emergency.
Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images