It’s hours before first pitch on a September afternoon in the Royals’ clubhouse, and first baseman Eric Hosmer is leisurely sitting at his locker, minding his own business.
By PETE GRATHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Perhaps sensing Hosmer’s blissful state, catcher Salvy Perez sneaks up — as quietly as possible for a 6-foot-3 man — and whispers something.
“Get away from me,” Hosmer says with a big grin as he stands up. “Stay away!”
Scampering to the other side of the room, Perez’s 245-pound frame shakes as he laughs.
This scene is not out of the ordinary in the Royals’ clubhouse, where Perez is known to crack a joke or engage in playful banter with a teammate or three.
“I’m happy,” Perez says. “I have good teammates, good people. We feel like a family here. That’s good for the team, everyone here.”
While Perez’s big, deep laugh is hard to miss in the clubhouse, he’s made his presence known on the field as well.
Since making his season debut June 22 after suffering a torn meniscus in his left knee in spring training, Perez is batting .310 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs. The Royals, who have a 66-80 record, are 19-16 since he was moved to fifth in the batting order.
While just 22, Perez is a cut-up in the locker room but all business on the field.
“He’s got that perfect catcher’s mentality,” Hosmer says. “He just runs the whole thing. He’s just a natural-born leader.”
Perez had a 17-game hitting streak end Friday night, but the next day crushed a home run off the left-field foul pole in the ninth inning that gave the Royals a 3-2 win against the Angels at Kauffman Stadium.
Of catchers who have played at least 60 games this season, Perez is second in the American League in average, trailing Joe Mauer of the Twins (.319). Perez’s .510 slugging percentage is second only to A.J. Pierzynski of the White Sox (.513).
But don’t bother asking Perez about hitting achievements. He can’t even recall his longest hitting streak before the 17-game tear.
“Last year, 11, I think,” he says. “I don’t remember.”
It was 11, but that was earlier this season when he came off the disabled list. Although Perez has played just 103 career games, he’s wielding a powerful bat.
According to Baseball Reference, Perez’s career slugging percentage of .496 is the second-highest in baseball history for catchers age 22 or younger who have at least 400 plate appearances. That’s one spot ahead of Reds Hall of Famer Johnny Bench and behind Braves All-Star Brian McCann.
It’s a small sample size, but it still speaks to Perez’s ability and potential as a hitter. And that’s only part of what he brings to the team.
“He runs the whole defense back there,” Hosmer says. “He controls everything. He’s the captain of the ship.”
Perez has thrown out 16 of 36 would-be base stealers this season, and that .444 percentage is tops in the American League.
Despite missing more than two months of the season, The Fielding Bible shows Perez as having saved six runs, which is the third best among catchers.
There appear to be no lingering effects from his knee troubles.
“Everything is good,” Perez says. “I’m ready to play every day and win games.”
That shows with his uncanny ability to pick off runners. Perez has already nailed opponents who were napping on the bases. That gives him seven pickoffs in 101 career games as a catcher, which already is tied with the Royals’ career record set by Darrell Porter, who did it in 492 games.
Hosmer and his teammates have grown accustomed to Perez sneaking a throw behind a runner. That quick thinking keeps players on their toes, whether they’re opposing base runners or teammates in the clubhouse minding their own business. And Hosmer wouldn’t have it any other way.
“He has a great time out here, but at the same time, he knows when to work, and that’s a great character trait to have for sure,” Hosmer says.
“Most catchers have the same personality where you’ve got to really be willing to lead and be open and get along with everybody. That’s what he does. Guys just flock to him.”
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