Perez on fast track to success in Majors
Outfielder's defense has become essential to defending world champions
SAN FRANCISCO -- Steve Decker has missed Juan Perez's first few steps too many times to count.
The Giants' Minor League hitting instructor, employed to develop the club's hitting talent, can't help but admire Perez for the defensive feats he is now showcasing at the Major League level.
"By the time you turn your head, and you pick him up in the outfield after an opponent has hit a ball there, he's up to full speed," Decker said. "That's one of the most impressive things I've always seen out of Juan Perez. I couldn't even get my head turned, and he was up to stride."
Even though Perez was called up less than three weeks ago, Decker's description should be a familiar one to Giants fans. In his Major League debut -- June 9 in Arizona -- Perez glided from his center-field position to a spot 400 feet from home plate in right-center field in just 4.4 seconds; it was one of the season's most prolific plays. Perez made the snag, collided with the wall, and still grasped the baseball in his glove after tumbling to the warning track.
By the time Perez made the play, he was essentially in right field territory, an area familiar to him since the 26-year-old was introduced to the position growing up in the Dominican Republic.
"I remember my first game," Perez said. "The [coaches said], 'Put him in right field.'"
Perez has dabbled at each position during his baseball career, even pitcher, though that should come as no surprise to anyone. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound outfielder has a cannon for an arm, which produced four outfield assists in his first 42 defensive innings.
"I always played baseball since I was little in the Dominican," he said. "I played in the backyard behind the house, in the street and played with the caps off the big bottles of water and a broomstick."
Perez's family moved to the Bronx when he was 14, and he's experienced just about everything imaginable -- beginning with a difficult transition to a new language and culture. He played junior college baseball with Danny Almonte, who famously turned out to be two years older than the rest of the Little League competition he dominated in 2001.
Heck, he even pitched in at his father's plumbing business in the Bronx to help make ends meet.
"There's no baseball in New York in the winter, so I was just trying to make some money for him and help him out," Perez said. "After work, I used to go back home and hit with the guys in the batting cage and stuff like that.
"By summertime, I'd say, 'Dad, I need to start playing ball again.' He'd say, 'It's alright, keep doing what you're doing. You're having fun. Go play baseball.'"
And that's what Perez has done his entire life, despite all the stops along the way. Now, the Giants hope he's found a home in the team's outfield for a long time.
For a few decades now, the Giants' farm system has produced a dearth of outfield talent. In fact, not since Chili Davis in 1986 have the Giants sent a homegrown outfielder to the All-Star Game. In recent years, San Francisco has shaken its reputation for not developing quality position players, but the void still remains in the outfield.
Although the jury is still out on Perez's ability to stick with the Giants long-term -- manager Bruce Bochy recently said Perez has the tools to be an everyday outfielder during his career -- the organization's brass has to enjoy seeing one of their own break through at the Major League level.
"What he showed the last two years at Double-A and Triple-A is consistency, how to go out there every day and win ball games, and he's still learning," Decker said. "The more he's around those veteran players, the more he has to offer. Defensively, with his arm and speed, and he'll hit with power every once in a while, he's just got a nice skill set to help you win ballgames."
That's exactly what Perez has done since the callup. While his batting average has tailed off a bit -- it's down to .265 through Wednesday -- he continues to develop at the plate while changing games defensively. With Angel Pagan out for at least 10 weeks after undergoing surgery, Perez is suddenly a key component for the defending World Series champions.
While Perez is focused on the daily grind of his first Major League season, he can't help but look ahead to the Giants' trip to the Bronx for a three-game series in September, even if he wasn't the one who first noticed it on the schedule.
"Oh yeah, it would be pretty special," said Perez, who added that he was not a big Yankees fan growing up. "I've got a lot of friends and family members that already saw the schedule before I saw it and said we are going there then. I didn't even know until they told me."
Now that Perez has acquainted himself with the big leagues, the key to remaining with the Giants is knowing what the situation calls for and where he is on the field, even if onlookers like Decker have trouble keeping track of him.
"Once you get into Double-A, Triple-A, the transition is from a mechanically-sound swing to an approach and a strategy," Decker said. "That development of learning how to be a threat is where he's really improved."