At times, Brayan Peña feels like the man who saw Bruce Springsteen before the arena tours, the man who saw Prince playing club shows. Four years ago, Peña was in his last season of a four-year stay in Kansas City, and even then, he says, he saw the foundation for a contender. Especially at catcher.
In 2011 and 2012, Peña served as a reserve catcher as the Royals broke in Salvador Perez at the major-league level. Peña needed just a few weeks to witness the promise and potential that existed in Perez’s 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame.
“I said, ‘Wow, this kid is special,’ ” says Peña, now a backup with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Even then, the sentiment was hardly bold. Inside the Royals’ organization, Peña said coaches would compare Perez’s talent to that of Ivan Rodriguez. Former Royals bench coach Chino Cadahia, one of Perez’s early mentors, told Peña that Perez was the real deal, citing his arm strength and presence behind the plate. Four years later, Peña said none Perez’s success — the All-Star games, the Gold Gloves, the World Series MVP — has surprised him.
“It’s a team thing, but you got to give a lot of credit to the guy behind the plate,” Peña says. “This is a guy who goes out there and plays every day pretty much. It was good to see him (excel), because I saw him when he was coming up.”
Peña left the Royals after the 2012 season, spending time in Detroit and Cincinnati before signing with the Cardinals last offseason. He joined the club this week in Kansas City after recovering from early-season knee surgery. As he returned to Kauffman Stadium, the cheery Pena spent time reminiscing with members of the Kansas City grounds crew and seeing old teammates.
He has fond memories of his time with the Royals. He watched the last two postseasons with a measure of pride and satisfaction. He praised Royals general manager Dayton Moore for his work.
“He was the one that made that happen,” Peña said. “He stuck to his plan. A lot of those guys were homegrown, and the guys that weren’t homegrown, they came here earlier in the trade for Zack Greinke. And it really paid off. The patience … he let them go through a struggle.”
Four years later, Peña, 34, still refers to most of his old Royals teammates as “kids.” He was there when Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Perez debuted in 2011. He saw the culture start to shift in 2012. He has an appreciation, he says, for the entire process.
“Those kids, they deserve what they have,” Peña says. “Because I know how much work they put in. I know how much it meant to them. It was great to see that, because I was there. We didn’t have such good winning seasons and everybody was like: ‘We have to stay strong, we have to believe in the process,’ and the process paid off.”
Braves sign Infante to a minor-league deal
Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball reported that the Atlanta Braves have signed former Royals second baseman Omar Infante to a minor-league deal. Infante was designated for assignment by the Royals on June 15.