In their second round of cuts, the Nationals optioned Yunesky Maya to Class AAA Syracuse and Eury Perez to Class AA Harrisburg while reassigning relievers Jeff Fulchino and Waldis Joaquin to minor league camp. The moves trimmed the Nationals’ spring training roster to 39 available players.
Of those shipped out today, Perez, 21, made the most significant impression. After spending last season at Class A Potomac, the Nationals placed Perez on the 40-man roster this winter to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He arrived at spring training 15 pounds heavier, “and it all looks like muscle,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
Perez went 6 for 18 with one double and a walk, showing blazing speed on the base paths and a strong arm from the outfield. Wednesday night, Perez circled behind a fly ball as a runner tagged on second base. In the dugout, wanting to see his arm, teammates yelled, “Run! Run!” Perez caught the ball and fired a one-hop bullet to third base in time for the out.
“What I saw three years ago, he is so much better,” Johnson said earlier in spring. “His swing is short and compact. He has come a long way. He really looks good to me. His standing in the organization was high to begin with. He has only enhanced it.”
The Nationals never considered Perez a possibility to make the roster this spring, but they see him as a possible solution to their longstanding center field issue. Some in front office believe Perez plays up to his competition. He won rookie of the year honors in the Dominican Winter League two years ago.
The Nationals sensed Perez growing weary of his place in the organization last winter, but officials told him he could earn the major league center field job in the near future. He traded flair for a more fundamental approach, and the results showed this spring.
The Nationals signed Maya, a Cuban defector, to a four-year, $6 million deal at the end of 2010, a contract he has not lived up to. They consider him Class AAA depth at this point.
The Nationals acquired Fulchino and Joaquin this winter. Both will likely pitch out of Syracuse’s bullpen.