The Cleveland Indians’ depth behind the plate will be tested this season as starting catcher Roberto Perez was placed on the 10-day injured list on Wednesday with a right shoulder strain.
Perez had experienced discomfort with the shoulder since making an impressive play during the Indians’ season opening game against the Kansas City Royals, when he tracked down a third strike wild pitch, slipped, and completed the throw to first from the seat of his pants. Perez jammed his shoulder on the play and felt some tightness but tried to push through it in the days that followed. It continued to persist, leading the Indians to select the contract of backstop Beau Taylor from the team’s minor league camp in Eastlake on Tuesday, less than a day before placing Perez on the IL.
He will be shut down from throwing for a week before he is re-evaluated, but he will continue to work out with the other players on the 60-man roster at the team’s Alternate Training Site in Eastlake.
“We have trainers over there – strength and conditioning guys,” manager Terry Francona said in a quote on MLB.com. “So he can stay in baseball shape. And whether it’s two days, three days, four days…whatever it ends up being where he can start to do some things with that arm, he’ll have access to that.”
The injury may have been affecting him at the plate, too, as he was just 1-for-10 with six strikeouts in the early going. His loss, one year after a breakout offensive showing at the plate, will also be felt behind the plate. He has been a defensive stalwart, limiting wild pitches and preventing passed balls while capable of gunning down runners at a high frequency, all in addition to his efforts calling the game. He was recognized with an American League Gold Glove Award and the Wilson’s Overall Defensive Player of the Year Award for his work behind the plate in 2019.
He is no stranger to playing through pain, as he spent a significant amount of time last season playing through bone spurs in his ankle before having offseason surgery to address the ailment.
Sandy Leon, a 31-year-old switch-hitting backstop in his ninth Major League season, will serve as the team’s primary catcher until Perez is able to return. Outfielder Daniel Johnson, who was optioned to the team’s Alternate Training Site Tuesday evening to make room for Taylor, was recalled to fill the open roster spot.
The catching position in the Indians organization once looked to have a bit of depth just a few seasons ago, when Perez was backing up Yan Gomes with top prospect Francisco Mejia waiting in the wings. Mejia was traded to San Diego in the summer of 2018 for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, while Gomes’ contract was purged in the deal with Washington late that fall that brought Johnson, pitcher Jefry Rodriguez, and minor leaguer Andruw Monasterio over from the Nationals organization.
Leon has worked in as many as 89 games in a season, but has been predominantly a backup through his career with Washington and Boston. He posted a .310/.369/.476 slash in 78 games in his best offensive season in 2016, but otherwise has failed to hit higher than .225 in a half-season body of work.
In 394 career games over nine years, Leon owns a lifetime .220/.283/.331 line with 51 doubles, two triples, 25 homers, and 123 RBI. He was acquired by the Indians from the Red Sox on December 2 for minor league pitcher Adenys Bautista.
Taylor will serve the Indians as a backup and is in the starting lineup for Wednesday night’s 6:10 PM ET start against the Chicago White Sox in the series finale. A 30-year-old left-handed hitter with 18 games of big league experience in 2018 and 2019 with Oakland (.167/.306/.400 with two solo homers and a double to make up his five hits), Taylor signed with the Indians in December on a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.
Things get very thin behind the plate for the Indians now. Steven Baron, a 29-year-old with 13 games of big league experience, was signed by the club on July 3 as camp depth. He went hitless in eleven at bats over four games in his debut season with Seattle in 2015, then returned to the Majors in 2018 with the St. Louis Cardinals, getting a single in five at bats in two games. Last season, he hit .200 (2-for-10) in seven games with the Pirates, recording his first extra base hit and first RBI. He is expected to travel as part of the taxi-squad for the team’s trip to Minnesota.
After Baron, the last man available is Bo Naylor, the team’s first round pick in the 2018 draft. Naylor is only 20 years old and has played a total of 140 professional games in his two seasons in the farm system. Last year with Lake County, he hit .243 with a .313 on-base percentage and .421 slugging mark with 18 doubles, ten triples, eleven homers, and 65 RBI in 107 games.
The Indians may have to look to the waiver wire and free agent pool for further depth (Russell Martin?), especially if Perez’s injury lingers longer than a week. As the list of candidates may not be much to write home about (see: Jonathan Lucroy, released by Boston on Wednesday), exploring a trade may be the only recourse, but that’s no easy task in this bizarre 2020 environment.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images