A one-time plumber who quit organized baseball for two years has put down his plunger and picked up his game for the San Jose Giants.
Outfielder Juan Perez is one of the Giants’ top hitters in only his second year of pro baseball. He went undrafted in 2006 after starring at DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City. “I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t drafted,” Perez said. “Everybody had high expectations.”
Perez went to a baseball academy in Florida but says that didn’t work out. So he returned to the Bronx and played for two years with former pro ballplayers in the amateur La Caribe Baseball League while working briefly for his father’s plumbing business.
“That was heavy work,” recalls Perez, who says the job experience inspired him to work harder to get back into baseball. Finally, an opportunity came to play at Western Oklahoma State Junior College. That’s when pro scouts noticed him.
In 2008, Perez had one of the best years in junior college history, hitting .465 with 37 home runs and 102 RBI’s. “Scouts and the media called me ‘the mystery guy’ because they didn’t have any reports on me.” The Giants took him in the 13th round of the 2008 draft.
Perez hit just .244 in his first year of pro ball in Augusta last year but worked hard in the off-season to improve.
“I changed my swing,” Perez said. “I used to have a kind of looped swing trying to hit a lot of home runs. This year I’m looking forward to having a higher average.”
He’s off to a fast start, hitting .301 with four homers and 14 RBI. But Manager Brian Harper says it was Perez’s defense during spring training that opened some eyes within the organization.
“Francisco (Peguero) was going to be an everyday centerfielder but the big league team liked his arm so they wanted him to play rightfield because of the size of AT&T Park. But it was also because of how well Juan played in centerfield while Peguero was in big league camp.”
Harper praises Perez for his speed and defensive instincts.
“When you watch Juan go after a ball he’s very smooth because he’s taking good routes. He doesn’t zig-zag after balls like some other outfielders.”
Harper says the 23-year-old Perez, a native of the Dominican Republic who moved to the U.S. in 2001, has been a tremendous influence on Ehire Adrianza and Peguero, two young Latin prospects with limited command of English.
“A lot of Latin kids say they understand instructions because they don’t want to be embarrassed. There’s been a few times that Peguero has missed some verbal instructions that I gave so I made sure Juan tells him exactly what I said.”
Perez recognizes that the Giants are deep in outfield prospects, such as former San Jose Giants Thomas Neal and Roger Kieschnick and his teammate Peguero. But he’s also secure in his own abilities.
“I can do it all. I play defense, hit and run well. We’re here to learn and hopefully we’ll learn something new and get better every day.”
For more info: cakechow.com’s top minor league baseball prospects for 2010