Born: May 30, 1990 in San Luis, Dominican Republic
Weight: 170 LBS
Career Minor League OPS: .747
Eury Perez, who signed with the Nationals as a teenager back in April 2007, has used his legs to thrust himself into the top prospect ranks and was even added to Washington’s 40-Man Roster recently. In his 2008 stateside debut, the little speedster led the Gulf Coast League Nationals to a championship after he topped the league in batting average (.381), on-base percentage (.443) and hits (69) during the regular season. His spectacular performance was recognized and he took home the Topps Gulf Coast League Player of the Year award. While playing the in the South Atlantic League in 2010, he hit .299 and swiped 64 bases, the second highest total in the minor leagues. He was honored with a selection to the prestigious All-Star Futures Game.
Perez spent his 2010 offseason tearing apart the Dominican Winter League. Through 37 games, he hit .345 and stole twenty-one bases, earning the 2010 Dominican Winter League Rookie of the Year award in the process. He wasn’t able to carry his performance over to the Carolina League to start the 2011 regular season, however. After batting .222 through his first nine games, he was placed on the Disabled List with a ribcage injury. He returned to the Potomac Nationals lineup at the beginning of May and performed fairly well for the next couple of months. His stats weren’t half-bad but his play was uncharacteristically flat. Even when he appeared fully healthy, his swing lacked the line-drive punch he had displayed in 2010. He hit .380 and stole 11 bases in the season’s last 24 games, but collected just one extra-base hit (a double) in that period.
The Nationals recently added Perez to their 40-Man Roster to protect him from the 2011 Rule-V Draft. He’s still just twenty-one years old, and if he regains his momentum and develops at the plate, he could be patrolling the outfield at Nationals Park’s by 2014.
Perez’s game is built around his plus-plus running speed. He’s a flat-out burner and he’s racked up 109 stolen bases in the last two seasons. Perez’s raw speed rates atop the 20-80 scale, but it plays at a truly elite-level due to his remarkable quickness, tremendous body control and savvy base reads. He’s a hyper-aggressive baserunner, but rarely gets thrown out– even on pitch-outs. A true quick-twitch athlete, he has a great first-step and he consistently gets good jumps. He reads pitchers precisely and knows how to maximize his leads. While his speed and base-stealing prowess are no secret, his baserunning reads make him unpredictable and very difficult to pick off. When on-base, he wreaks havoc on pitchers’ timing and concentration, often causing errant throws and balks. He’s always a threat to steal, against any catcher and in any count. He’s more than comfortable at swiping third base and he’s even becoming proficient at running the safety squeeze. He avoids tags with acrobatic body control and polished sliding technique.
Perez is a smart hitter, with quick hands and great hand-eye coordination. His swing mechanics are still raw, but he has the prerequisites necessary of a big league lead-off man. His set-up is unorthodox, as he starts upright with low relaxed hands, but he gets into an efficient hitting position just before the pitcher releases the ball. He has a slight bat-wrap, but he generally loads smoothly. His hands are very quick and short to the ball. He shows great bat control and sharp plate vision. His hitting mechanics are improving, and he’s beginning to tighten his stroke and stay more compact. When he’s healthy and comfortable in the box, his swing is level and follows a line-drive path. His above-average hand-eye coordination shows in his knack for making contact, and he has a nice feel for hitting. Though he’s rail- thin, he has strong wrists and his frame has some room for adding lean muscle.
Perez’s on-base percentage has taken a nose-dive since he led the GCL with a .443 mark in ’09, but when he’s right, he’s a very tough out. Fearless and armed with Ecksteinian courage, he dives in to the ball and gets great plate coverage. He’s a very aggressive hitter, but his solid pitch recognition and bat control allow him to put the ball in play consistently. He makes solid contact in all four-quadrants of the zone, and he’s beginning to employ an all-fields approach. His wheels mix very well with his pesky, slap-hitting style at the plate, and he loves to drag bunt and leg-out infield singles. Much of his low walk rate is due to youthful aggressiveness and injury-related cold streaks. For his age, he works the count well and his plate vision is solid enough for him to profile as big-league lead-off man.
Defensively, Perez has the makings of a star-level centerfielder. He’s an immense athlete, blessed with remarkable body control, hand-eye coordination and blazing speed. He glides to both gaps, already displaying solid-average range, and tracks the ball well over each shoulder. He takes direct routes on all-types of fly balls, and reads line drives with veteran decisiveness and precision. His body type fits the position and he looks like a natural outfielder. Blessed with wide receiver body awareness, he has the tools for highlights reel plays, and he’s already adept at making tough, over-the-shoulder catches. Though his arm is fringe-average, his quick release helps it play up and his polished fundamentals afford his throws nice accuracy and carry.
Perez has almost no power. His small frame offers little strength and his swing mechanics don’t include his legs. His set-up has too much movement. He rocks his weight back and forth with anxious feet, and tends to stomp his front foot rather than taking a proper stride. His weight transfer is inconsistent, and he’s prone to getting out in front, and chopping the ball into the ground. His hips drift and he twists open, making it very difficult to hit the ball with authority. Perez will raise his elbow to shoulder level when he loads, like a power hitter, but his weak upper-body and “happy feet” waste any power-loop benefits. He also wraps his bat, adding more unnecessary length to his swing. In order to maximize his potential as a leadoff hitter, he’ll need to drop his elbow, quiet his legs and work on his balance and weight transfer.
In order to fully regain the plate discipline and contact skills he had shown in 2010 and in the Dominican Winter League, Perez needs to put serious time into refining his hitting technique. He still manages to maintain a nice average despite nascent hitting mechanics, but he won’t be able to lean so heavily on hand-eye coordination and athleticism against more advanced pitching. He often lacks a plan at the plate. When he was pressing last season, he fell in love with bunting and bluff drag-bunting, often putting himself in tough counts and making easy outs.
Since his flashy stateside debut earned him the Topps Gulf Coast League Player of the Year in 2009, Perez’s production has trailed off. His 2010 campaign started off slowly, but he caught fire after the All-Star break and ended up posting an impressive .355 wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average). He also led the SAL with 21 sacrifice hits and his 64 stolen bases ranked second in the minors, behind only Delvi Cid. Injuries derailed him badly in 2011 however, and he struggled through most of the season before finally getting it together in August. His weak .299 wOBA dragged his career mark down to .327. Worse, his .038 ISO in ’11 would even put Jason Tyner to shame. Perez’s OPS has dropped from .946 in ’09 to .726 in ’10 and now to .640 last season, and he’s managed just 52 extra base hits through 297 professional games in the US. Perez’s speed, defense, bunting prowess and palatable contact skills keep his prospect stock alive though, and at twenty-one years old, he still has plenty of time to get his career back on track.
Between Bryce Harper, Destin Hood and Michael Taylor, the Nationals are clearly stocked with more talented and complete outfield prospects, but Perez is the system’s only true centerfielder. Though he’s still years away, he has the raw tools and Mario Andretti foot-speed to eventually develop in to a Juan Pierre/Michael Bourn-type big league centerfielder. The .640 OPS he posted while playing in the Carolina League last season is cause for concern, but the Nationals like what they see and they made sure to protect him from the Rule-V Draft this winter.
Injuries and youth excuse Perez’s punchless 2011 campaign, but he’ll need to add considerable power and polish to his work at the plate if he wants to develop into an everyday player in the MLB. Even if he falls short of his ceiling, though, his speed, centerfield defense and hitting skills clear a path to Washington and he should put together a decent career as a fourth outfielder at minimum.