Evaluating New Tampa Bay Rays Catcher Michael Perez

The non-waiver trade deadline is still a few days away, but the Tampa Bay Rays have already been busy. About two hours before he was supposed to start for them on Wednesday, the Rays traded right-handed pitcher Nathan Eovaldi to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for left-hander Jalen Beeks. Then on Thursday, they dealt lefty reliever Jonny Venters to the Atlanta Braves for $250,000 of international bonus pool space.

Though Beeks certainly has promise, both of those trades were still classic examples of a team that’s all but out of the playoff race just getting what they could for their pending free agents. The Rays made another trade on Wednesday, though, that may have been more interesting. Tampa Bay dealt right-hander Matt Andriese to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for catcher Michael Perez and a pitching prospect, right-hander Brian Shaffer.

Evaluating New Tampa Bay Rays Catcher Michael Perez

For much of the Rays’ existence, they’ve struggled to get production from their catchers. This year, they’ve enjoyed an All-Star season from Wilson Ramos. But Ramos is another pending free agent who is likely to be traded soon. Even if he isn’t, it’s very unlikely that the Rays would be able to re-sign him. Furthermore, he’s currently on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.

Though Ramos’ days in Tampa Bay seem numbered, the Rays have little catching depth, nor do they have any highly-touted catching prospects coming through their system. This has led to many fans wondering not only who would replace Ramos as the team’s starting catcher, but what the team’s long-term plan was behind the plate. So, the Rays went out and acquired Perez.

Perez’s Offense

Perez, who turns 26 in August, had spent parts of eight seasons in the Diamondbacks’ system since they took him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. A left-handed hitter, his bat began to show some life last year, when he slashed .279/.365/.424 with five home runs and 39 RBI in 80 games at Double-A, good for a 130 wRC+.

He carried that into Triple-A this season, where he slashed .284/.342/.417 with six home runs and 29 RBI in 58 games. However, those numbers came in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League with the Reno Aces, grading out to a 98 wRC+.

Perez has shown a good eye over the last couple of years. Last year he drew a walk in 11.3% of his plate appearances in Double-A. This year, Perez kept his walk rate at a respectable 8.3% in Triple-A. Though his walks have dropped a bit, so have his strikeouts. He only struck out in 16.7% of his plate appearances in Triple-A this year, cutting his rate down from last year’s 20.2%. Perez doesn’t seem to have Ramos’ power, but he’s a line drive hitter who seems like someone who could hit a lot of doubles. He did last year, smacking 23 of them in just 262 plate appearances. It’s been so far, so good for Perez’s bat over his first two games with the Rays, going 4-for-6 with a double.

Perez’s Defense

What the Rays really like about Perez, though, is his work behind the plate. Some believe his pitch framing is elite. They also love his arm, as well as the way he’s come along in blocking pitches. Perez only allowed two passed balls in Triple-A this year, while throwing out 16 of 46 base stealers, good for a caught stealing rate of 34.8%.

As the Rays transition from the Wilson Ramos era to the Michael Perez era, they’re likely going to lose some offense, but also get better defense behind the plate. Though Ramos is about as good of a hitter as you’ll see among catchers, he’s only thrown out seven of 32 base stealers this year (21.9%) while allowing six passed balls, in addition to 23 wild pitches that were charged to Rays pitchers with Ramos behind the plate.

Catcher of the Future?

A lot of people hadn’t even heard of Perez when this trade was made. You wouldn’t find him high on many prospect lists, and though he’d been in the Diamondbacks’ system since 2011, he still wasn’t even on their 40-man roster. The Rays, though, are hoping they’ve found a late bloomer who can finally provide the team with the long-term catcher they’ve been looking for. Perez will likely get a long look over the final two months of this season to audition to be Tampa Bay’s starting catcher in 2019 and beyond.

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