The first Cape League game I attended this season was between the YD Red Sox and the visiting Chatham Anglers on June 21st. After researching both teams, I had a vague idea of what I wanted to concentrate on: the starters Kyle Hansen (YD) and Buck Farmer (Chatham), Jacob Lamb (YD), and Kris Bryant (Chatham). I got to the field two hours before game time and set up shop behind the plate. YD had just taken the field for BP as I started to take notes. At that time of the season, rosters were still changing every day so it was tough to know exactly *who* I was watching but I walked back out to the entrance and grabbed a copy of the team rosters and that made things much easier. Go figure.
As is standard practice, as soon as the Red Sox finished their BP session, Chatham took the field for their cuts in the cage. For the most part, it was unspectacular. It's great to take in BP because you get a preliminary feel for each player's swing and at least a general idea of their current power. Obviously in-game power is different from BP power but you get the idea. On that particular day, few from Chatham "wowed" me in BP. I rarely heard that cracking sound that almost made you feel bad for the ball.
However, there was one Angler who didn't quite fit in and it's not just because he wasn't yet wearing a numbered jersey while his teammates were. This particular player had a swagger, a cockiness, a sense of belonging and I mean that in the nicest possible way. He stepped into the cage and immediately made solid contact. Crack. Crack. CRACK. Line drive after line drive. Gap to gap. He didn't hit any balls over the fence but he didn't mishit any, either. Crack. Crack. I thought, "Who is this guy? Why couldn't he wear a normal numbered jersey so I knew who I was watching?"
Crack. Crack. As he was known in my notebook, "Random Hitter" finally moved to the other side of the plate. His name became, "Random Switch-Hitter." Using my expert detective capabilities, I consulted my aforementioned roster and looked to see what switch-hitters Chatham had on their team. Just one. Stephen Perez. Infielder. 5-11. 184 pounds. University of Miami. Mystery solved.
Stephen Perez was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 18th round of the 2009 draft but honored his commitment to Miami. He had a .255/.367/.423 line with 8 home runs, 14 doubles, 39 walks, and 72 strikeouts during his freshman season. He even added 24 stolen bases while only getting caught four times despite not being a burner.
Perez entered last year's Cape League with some hype and put together a "So Bad We Don't Need To Analyze The Numbers" season in only 18 games. It's a small sample size, only 68 at-bats. Hell, after 68 at-bats this season, Jed Lowrie was destined for the Hall of Fame so we'll give Perez a pass for last summer.
As a sophomore this year, Perez had a .263/.361/.366 line with no homers, 12 doubles, 27 walks, 50 strikeouts, and was 14 for 16 on swiping bases. His power fell off a cliff. Maybe he changed his approach at the plate. Maybe the power he showed in 2010 was a result of the juiced bats that were banned starting in 2011.
Perez returned to the Cape this season and has an interesting batting line. Not taking into account tonight's game, he has a .298/.461/.404 with three doubles and hit his first home run last night. He still has contact issues as his 19 strike outs in 57 at-bats proves, but he's also walked 18 times. Just as we can't read too much into last summer's season due to sample size issues, we also have to calm ourselves before getting too excited about Perez's 2011 season. His true talent is somewhere between this season's adequacy and last year's horror show.
As BP progressed, more and more scouts made their way behind the plate and encountered the same problem I had minutes earlier. They didn't have the roster and had no clue who they were watching. "Who's 42? Who's 27?" they asked. If I had an answer, I responded but relied on the other scouts to fill in the other blanks.
As Chatham took the field for their defensive drills, Perez stood at shortstop, complete with a numbered jersey (18), showed off a strong arm, excellent footwork around the second base bag, and great instincts. The scouts in attendance took note. They made loud, "Hmm," noises when he picked up a short-hop or showed off his arm. Curiosity.
During the game, it was more of the same. He showed strong instincts in the field with decent range. He didn't cover as much ground as I hoped showed off good hands and an above average arm. At the plate, Perez had a patient approach. He didn't waste any movements in the batter's box. He was quick to the ball and remained balanced throughout his swing but the contact issues persist.
Unfortunately, he also committed a major mistake. The Cape League provides players with an amazing opportunity to act like professional baseball players in a tight-knit community while displaying their talents in front of several scouts and front office officials each and every game. That can also work against players because if they make a mistake, which is something every player does at some point, that can stick in the mind of the scout that happens to be there that day.
In Perez's third plate appearance, he took a fastball for a strike, a curveball for a strike, and then grounded out to third but jogged out of the batter's box and down the line to first base. The scout in front of me had his family at the game, and he made a point of telling his kids, "Did you see that? It doesn't take all the talent in the world to hustle." Later in the game, another player hit an easy ground ball out bust hustled the entire way out of the batter's box. That same scout said, "There. Right there. He hustled out of the box." When he made his initial comment, an older couple nearby asked what "good" speed is down the line. Another scout chimed in, "4.3 seconds for a right-handed hitter, and 4.2 for a lefty is average." The couple asked, "What'd he (Perez) get?" The scout answered, "I don't know. I stopped timing. That'll go in the report, though."
It's too bad, really. I know each of the thirty MLB teams are well-represented on the Cape. Between the scouts, the cross-checkers, and the upper level front office types, each team will drive over the Bourne or Sagamore Bridge at the end of the season with a scouting report of most of the Cape's players. Stephen Perez is unlikely to suffer because he didn't run out one ground ball. However, that handful of scouts in attendance will only remember him for his unwillingness to run out of the box and that's too bad.
The lesson is: kids, run out of the batter's box. Hustle. You never know who's watching.
Stephen Perez isn't the next Troy Tulowitzki and there's nothing wrong with that. The truth is, he may not be a shortstop as he progresses in his career as he may not have the range to stick at short and a move to second may be in his future. However, he stood out for me that day and the subsequent time I saw Chatham play. Most importantly, he's fun to watch. Hopefully he figures out his contact issues and finds where his power has been hiding all year as he's draft eligible next spring. As a switch-hitting shortstop (or second baseman) with on-base ability and some power-potential, teams will be sure to take a good look at him next season for The U.