Is Sal Perez the best American League catcher?

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The title says it all.

And even though Perez has played barely over a full season for a catcher – 146 games – it is not an unfair question.

Is Salvador Perez the best catcher in the American League?

Amazing to think about for someone who just turned 23 this week. Perez had the Royals convinced after just 39 games in 2011, when the Royals locked him to a long-term deal work at least $7 million over five years with the possibility of $15 million in three more club options.

JUST 39 GAMES.

Perez, played just 76 games last year after missing the first half of the season due to a meniscus injury suffered in the spring, is currently hitting .284 and .304 average with 15 HR, 70 RBI and 30 doubles in his short career. Not bad for someone who was considered a hitting liability and a defense-first catcher coning up through the minor leagues. Manager Ned Yost wanted Perez to make the 2011 Opening Day roster, but GM Dayton Moore denied it, saying his bat wasn’t ready. All he has done since being in the show is hit. But, the offense is just an added bonus. If Perez continues to hit, he will be a multi-time All-Star.

“If you asked me,” a veteran major-league scout said per Rustin Dodd’s story in today’s Star, “Who’s the one young guy on that club right now that’s gonna wind up being an perennial All-Star? I’d tell you Salvador.”

“He’s one of the best young catchers I’ve seen,” longtime Royals scout Art Stewart told Dodd. “You gotta go back to Pudge (Ivan Rodriguez) and guys like that. He’s got the ability to be an All-Star for many years. As long as he stays healthy.”

The defense, though, is where he made his name. The dude has been clocked at throwing from his crouch to second in less than two seconds – sometimes it is from his knees.

“I’d never seen anything like it,” Yost said.

I normally did not think catching is that important of a position, but after watching other guys – like George Kottaras – behind the dish, it is obvious how important he is to a game. Dude is a stud. He has thrown out 33% of base-stealers and ALREADY has the Royals franchise record with nine pickoffs…and he has not yet played 162 games. Simply unreal. He OWNS IT behind the plate.

So lets examine today’s catchers and see where Perez ranks. According to Baseball Reference, Perez was the 14th-most valuable catcher in BASEBALL HISTORY through age 22 and according to FanGraphs.com, only Baltimore catcher Matt Weiters has more “Defensive Runs Saved” in the last three seasons than the 13 recorded by Perez.

Perez is in a rare-class for sure when combining defense and offense. The other three AL catchers comparable are Weiters, Minnesota’s Joe Mauer and Cleveland’s Carlos Santana.

Matt Weiters

His average season through five years is: .259 AVG/21 HR/80 RBI/29 2B/.327 OBP/.421 SLUG/.749 OPS.

His average WAR during this span is 2.64 (offensive 2.0, defensive 1.2). Weiters is two-time All-Star, making it in his third and fourth seasons, but has an up-and-down bat. He has also won two Gold Gloves – also the same two years as his All-Star selections. Defensively, one would think Perez is better, but Weiters, statistically, is better.

Joe Mauer

Mauer has been the most consistent offensive player of this group, winning four silver slugger awards, going to five All Star games, winning one MVP and finishing in the Top 10 three other times. He is also an underrated defensive player, winning three gold gloves. He is spending more and more time each year at first base and DH as he tries to stay healthy – something Perez, at 6-3 245 pounds, may have to do at some point to save himself.

So far through 10 seasons, Mauer’s average season is: .323 (the best for any active catcher)/14/89/39/.405/468/.873.

A .873 OPS and an unreal .405 OBP, I’ll take those any day.

His WAR’s: 4.1/4.1/0.3

His defensive WAR would suggest that he is not underrated with the glove, but actually overrated.

Carlos Santana

Santana may have the best offensive potential out of this group in terms of run production, but its going to be nearly impossible to reach Mauer’s +.400 OBP.

His average year: .255/25/84/37/.370/.459/.828

Santana is a brutal defensive catcher and by far the worst of the bunch, sporting a negative defensive WAR each year in the bigs behind the dish. His future may actually be at DH or 1B – where he has played 93 times already in his career, where he sports an above average offensive WAR (3.125) and an average overall WAR of 2.8, which is lowered because of his terrible fielding.

Sal Perez

Average season: .306/15/70/30/.333/.452/.784

WAR’s: 1.7/1.9/2.5

I think it is safe to say that Salvy is not in Weiters, Santana and Mauer’s class, YET, but is well on his way based on what he has done at such a young age and the rave reviews he has received from scouts, players and others baseball guys around the league.

He has the potential to be a 20 HR guy and his defense is arguably already the best out of this group.

The only thing that is going to stop Salvy from being the STUD that he is on way to being, is his body and I would not trade Salvy for anyone in this group.

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