Throughout the 2013 season, the San Francisco Giants have struggled to find a combination of outfielders that have been able to get the job done. They’ve used 11 players in the outfield this year and aside from Hunter Pence, no one has really been consistent.
However, 26-year-old rookie Juan Perez has delivered a significant spark to the team since returning on September 1 and because of his play, he should be given a serious chance to win a spot on the big-league bench in 2014.
The most obvious quality which makes Perez a great candidate for a reserve role is his fielding ability. He can comfortably play any position in the outfield, and he really knows what he’s doing in center. He’s consistently made defensive plays which have contributed to Giants victories, including his throw from left field in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game against the New York Yankees which prevented Zoilo Almonte from scoring and preserved the victory for San Francisco.
It really says something that despite playing in just 27 games this year, Perez leads the Giants in outfield assists with six. And though it’s probably an unlikely possibility that the team would actually use him there, Perez got a lot of experience playing third base this year in Triple-A and can also fill in there if needed.
The concern about Perez throughout the year has been that his bat wouldn’t be good enough to sustain a big-league career. Though he got off to a ridiculously hot start after making his major league debut in early June, going 8-for-19, it seemed that pitchers were quick to catch onto him. Perez had alarming difficulty staying disciplined when pitchers threw towards the lower left hand corner of the plate, and he ended up striking out a lot while swinging at bad pitches.
Things have changed, however, since Perez has returned. He’s gotten some quality playing time, including nine starts, and he’s definitely made the most of it. He’s now seven for his last 14, and he has played a huge role in the Giants winning their first multi-city road trip of the season. Though he performance is still based on a relatively small sample size (73 at-bats), his solid month has been enough to raise his batting average up to .260.
By comparison, Gregor Blanco, who likely will be Perez’s competition in 2014, has a .267 average. The main issue with the 30-year-old’s performance is that he has proven that he can’t be effective over a whole season. Though he was very effective in May and September last year, Blanco hit .207 over the other four months.
This year, Blanco’s been solid overall, but hit .169 in July and .226 in August. He’s been as hot offensively as Perez in September, but ultimately you have to wonder how practical it is to keep a guy on your club who will undoubtedly be terrible for at least two months a year.
It can certainly be argued that Blanco’s speed and defensive ability are just as good as Perez’s. Ultimately though, some quality information can be deduced from the stats: Blanco has one fewer assist than Perez, and he’s played 804 extra innings. Perez is younger and costs less, so why spend the extra money when you’re trying to save up as much money as possible to improve your club?
Some may say that Blanco’s experience should give him the edge, but Perez’s intriguing rookie performance has definitely given the Giants something to think about this offseason.