Eury Perez has been around a long time. The Nationals signed him in 2007. They had to put him on the 40-man roster last winter or lose him. He has been at the top of the Nationals’ top prospect list for several seasons now, in the consciousness of voracious fans and maybe even casual ones. You can easily forget a central fact: He’s 22.
Perez has been a pro for five years longer, but he is four months older than Brian Goodwin, the $3 million dollar 2011 draft pick regarded as the Nationals’ best outfield prospect. Perez’s road to the majors has not been smooth, but today he’ll arrive with the Nationals as a call-up charged with pinch-running duties. He will be the youngest player in the locker room save for Bryce Harper.
For years, Perez mystified the Nationals. He would play his best against better competition – he shredded the Dominican Winter League at 20, won the rookie of the year down there. At Potomac two years ago, they batted him ninth for not hustling, for big-leaguing it. His ability did not always rise to the surface.
This season, after a taste of major league camp in spring training, Perez grew up. Nationals scouts evaluating their own system saw him prepare like a big leaguer. During batting practice, he focused on drilling line drives to the opposite field. When he finished hitting, he focused on details as he ran the bases. When he finished his running, he stationed all three outfield spots, reading balls like the game had already started.
He still had his ability to raise his game. Once he got to Class AAA Syracuse in mid-July, Perez hit .333 in 40 games. “His hits have been legitimate hits,” Syracuse Manager Tony Beasley said. “Line drives to all parts of the field. He seemingly understands who he is as a hitter and uses the big part of the field. He hits line drives and hits hard groundballs. I’ve been really pleased with him.”
Perez did not walk much this season, but Beasley saw him make strides. He said Perez “just had one good at-bat after another,” and showed none of the anxiousness most new arrivals from Class AA have. Perez walked seven times in 82 games at Class AA Harrisburg, but eight in 40 games in Syracuse.
“He hasn’t been out of control offensively,” Beasley said. “He may chase a pitch every now and then. At times, you’ll see he’ll get a 3-1 count with no one on and he won’t swing, which is good for a hitter that needs to be a leadoff type hitter. For him, it’s important to get on base. On base is a double, sometimes a triple for him. I think he understands that.”
His speed is why Perez is now in Washington. Beasley timed him this season at 3.7 seconds to first base on a bunt, which is nearly outrageous for a right-handed batter. Beasley said he’s a smart enough base runner for the Nationals to put him out there with the game on the line without worry.
“He’s not just running based on speed,” Beasley said. “He’s been running based on what he sees. He has a pretty good knack for that. Even against lefties, he’s looking for some little thing a lefty may do habitually when he throws to first or when he pitches. He understands the different, and he recognizes those things. If I see something and mention it to him, the next at-bat if he’s on first, he’s got it. He’s not just running wild. He’s running with a purpose.”
Perez may not get much action in the field this September. At Syracuse, he played all three outfield spots. He provided one of the highlight plays of spring when from right field he gunned down a runner trying to advance from second to third on a fly ball.
He has all the tools, and he is younger than you realize. One Nationals official said it was a coin toss for him between Perez and Goodwin, which goes against the conventional wisdom. For now, Perez is a big leaguer for the first time. For someone his age, it is not the end, but the start.
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