Today we consider a bold prediction for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2020. I say Michael Perez will out-homer Mike Zunino.
Last season the Tampa Bay Rays were set to start the season with Mike Zunino and Michael Perez as the two primary options at the backstop. Injuries forced Erik Neander to call up Andrew Friedman of the Dodgers to see if he had a catcher lying around. Tampa Bay ended up purchasing the rights to Travis d’Arnaud for just $100,000. That worked out well. It also limited Michael Perez to just 22 games.
Now that d’Arnaud is gone, it appears the Rays should have a similar look to the beginning of last season (once the season begins).
Mike Zunino brings great defensive prowess and loads of power. He also brings a career batting .202 batting average and hit well-below that last season with a .165 average. Zunino was retained on a one-year contract. The Rays certainly hope another year of familiarity with the pitchers will give him an opportunity to find his swing.
The Rays do believe in Zunino’s talents and they value his defense. However, Perez could find himself with plenty of opportunities. If Zunino continues to hit below .200 in 2020, Perez may find himself on the field more often than not. Even though Zunino is the one making $4.5 million next year, Perez is under team control until 2025.
Perez came in as a highly regarded prospect…by the Rays at least. He was blocked in the Diamondbacks system but the Rays had pegged him as a guy that just needs a path or an opportunity. When the Diamondbacks inquired about relief pitcher Matt Andriese, the Rays knew who their guy was. The sweet left-handed power stroke was on its way to Tampa Bay.
With Zunino being a defense-first catcher, Perez will have to be more than competent behind the plate to eat into Zunino’s playing time.
So, how is his defense? Rays’ pitcher Anthony Banda said he used to beg the managers for Perez to catch him. Across nine minor league seasons, Perez has thrown out 37% of would-be base stealers. That’s a lot and it’s no fluke.
With the bat, in 54 games at AAA-Durham last season Perez slugged .495 with 13 homers in just 184 at-bats. Although he had a very small sample size to draw from last season in the majors, Perez led the Rays in BB% and hard-hit percentage. Again, he had too small of a sample size to qualify for the leaderboard, but his average exit velocity of 92.5 mph would have placed him 12th in the league and number one on the team.
Perez has all of the tools and after toiling in the minors nine seasons, the 27-year-old should finally get his opportunity. Hopefully for the Rays, both guys will have wonderfully productive seasons.