After being a late addition to the Dominican Republic team, Washington Nationals center fielder Eury Perez was in the right place at the right time in Sunday’s 4-2 win over Puerto Rico. In the process, the 22 year old showed why the Nationals are so high on him and may view Perez as their center fielder of the future.
With the Dominican Republic leading 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, manager Tony Pena inserted Perez in center to protect the lead. With two out and a man on third, Carlos Beltran came to the plate for Puerto Rico representing the tying run. Beltran drove a Santiago Casilla pitch to center that could have gone for extra bases. Perez ran it down with relative ease before crashing into, thankfully, a padded wall. The catch ended the inning and preserved the win.
On that single play, Perez looked better than 99% of the men who have played center field for Washington. Perez got a clean jump, cruised under the ball and made a clean catch. This is something that the Nationals have been searching for the last nine years. Washington hopes to have solved the problem for now with the addition of Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins.
Though he was called up last September and saw spot action, Perez will probably not be on the opening day roster. Roger Bernadina is expected to back up Span. However, Span is only signed for two years and when his contract runs out Perez will be 24 and just reaching his prime. If he continues to show the skills which led to him moving from the Gulf Coast League to AAA Syracuse then the Nationals will have a pleasant dilemma. If Span is playing well, do they sign him to a big contract? Or does Washington put Perez in center?
Strictly based on defense, Perez is ready for MLB right now. He is a natural in center and the only thing separating Perez from Span and Bernadina is his offense. This is the main reason why Perez is not starting in the WBC. If Perez learns more patience at the plate, he will play somewhere in the majors. The Nationals would like for him to be their lead off hitter in the future.
In watching Perez it is obvious that barring injury, he is on his way to the majors. If Washington suffers a few injuries it could be this season. The September call up is a given. If the Nationals get into the post season, Perez may be used as a pinch hitter and runner.
For now, Perez and his fans will have to be content with watching him show his potential in the minors and WBC. The catch he made Sunday gives Nationals fans reason to believe that center field will not be a problem for a long time to come.