El Salvador

Perhaps he’s not the savior that his name suggests, but the Royals are placing enough faith in 21-year-old Salvador Perez that his signing represents a significant effort to lock up talent early.

Much was made in 2008 about the signing of Evan Longoria to a long-term deal before he’d completed even a full year in the majors. The Royals mimicked the Longoria deal by giving Perez a 5-year deal for $7 million with 3 club option years that total up to $19.75 million.

By giving a rookie a multi-year, incentive-laden contract, it would appear both player and team benefit. If the player is injured or flops, he still gets big money. But if the player lives up to his presumed potential, the team retains his services through the early part of his career for a relatively bargain-basement price. And the player earns his worth through incentives.

The fact that Perez got such a deal done before Eric Hosmer might be a bit surprising, but is no less encouraging to Royals fans. Hosmer is a potentially great player, but he plays first base, a position where seemingly every team has a great player.

Perez, on the other hand, plays a position where few are truly great. Prior to last season, Perez was viewed as a premium defensive catcher and handler of pitchers who might develop offensively. But last season he rocketed to the head of the class with the bat and became the most coveted catching prospect in baseball.

While Hosmer has tons of company when it comes to elite first basemen, Manager Ned Yost told reporters Tuesday that Perez stands alone among catchers.

“You can’t find a catcher of his magnitude – they’re just not out there,” Yost said from Surprise, Arizona yesterday. “In my 25 years, I haven’t come across a catcher with this kid’s ability. When I was with the Braves, we sort of had that with Javi Lopez, Javi was a spectacular player, but this kid is better.”

Yost called Perez, who’s played just 39 games in the big leagues “ the cornerstone” of the team, predicting the catcher would be “an all-star for years to come.”

Is this kind of praise, heaped on top of a headline-grabbing contract, too much for a rookie?

“This is the big leagues. You learn to deal with that,” said Yost. “If you’re gonna reach your ceiling, there’s no way around that.”

Perez’ talent was no secret to Royals fans prior to 2011, but he wasn’t showing up in prospect rankings. Strangely, Wil Myers was the one ranked second among catching prospects at this time last year. But Myers moved to the outfield and Perez moved through two minor leagues and a month in Kansas City so effortlessly he would probably be ranked #1 among prospects this year if he were eligible.

(Some others ranked last year were very good as well. Jesus Montero certainly didn’t disappoint last year and is ranked #1 again this year. J.P. Arencibia and Wilson Ramos left the ranks of prospects to become solid big leaguers last year.)

But Yost doesn’t just see Perez as a great prospect. He sees in him the potential to be THE BEST catcher in the game. Soon.

How long has it been since the Royals had the best player in the game at any particular position? Possibly not since 1980, when Brett won the MVP as a third baseman.

So the fact that Perez stands in line to become an elite catcher makes his signing of utmost importance. Hopefully Hosmer and others will follow suit and commit to long-term deals with KC.

If Perez reaches his potential, he’ll be an all star. But if he can turn the Royals into a winning franchise, he will be El Salvador.


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