TROY, NY − The start of Joe Perez’s career has been anything but easy.
A second round draft pick for the Houston Astros in the 2017 MLB Entry Draft, Perez signed as a high schooler out of Archbishop High School in Florida.
“When you’re drafted that high out of high school, you are expecting the world to be at your feet,” said ValleyCats Manager Ozney Guillen. “And it was the opposite. His world was inside a room with two surgeries already, that’s not easy, especially mentally.”
The 53rd pick in the 2017 draft was drafted with the intention of being a third basemen and not a pitcher despite his high-90s fastball that was one of the best in his draft class. Perez’s power was what interested the Astros.
“Being a pitcher, I was always taking care of my arm, but ever since I was little I was a third basemen,” said Perez. “Even when I pitched, I was playing third.”
“I told him, ‘You’re not a pitcher anymore. I don’t want to see you throwing the ball like a pitcher, I don’t want to see you throwing in the bullpen,’” said Guillen. “I want you handling groundballs at your feet. I want you doing your job.”
Perez had to sit out that 2017 season, though. Tommy John surgery would sit him down until the 2018 season (the Astro’s were aware of the surgery before drafting him).
“My career was never something that I could control,” said Perez. “It’s being strong mentally. Being positive. Always seeing the good side of things and just pushing through.”
So 2018 comes around. Perez plays in four games and gets 11 at bats. He hits four singles and scores once, but doesn’t get an RBI.
The positive start was all Perez would get that season. Perez would be shut down for the remainder of the 2018 season with surgery on his labrum.
“I give Joe props, it’s hard to stay in baseball after two surgeries, especially at such a young age,” said Guillen.
Perez signed for $1.6 million in 2017, about $300,000 more than the slot value for his draft spot. A second round pick for one of the biggest big league clubs in Major League Baseball, now with some money in his pocket, it would’ve been easy for Perez to get arrogant.
“I don’t think he handled it well in the beginning, if I’m being honest,” said Guillen on Perez’s ability to handle his status with grace early in his career. “I think it’s easy to be caught up in the whole world of being a high pick, big high school kid out of Miami, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. He was a little bit into it, especially when you’re in rehab and you are being treated a little bit differently and you are around big league guys.”
To start 2019, Perez got the call out of the Gulf Coast League to join the ValleyCats in Troy. His first “healthy” season did not start off as smooth as he would have wanted. Perez seemed to be a mainstary in the lineup early, but a minor lower body injury made him miss the last week and a half of June.
“Coming up here feels like my first year being drafted,” said Perez.
Now, 28 games into the 2019 season, Perez is breaking out of his shell, and just at the right time as the ValleyCats surge to a six game winning streak after dropping five in a row the week before.
Perez's slash line is currently .235/.290/.496, with five home runs, 18 RBI, five doubles, and three stolen bases.
In this week’s series with the Lowell Spinners, Perez was the show. Perez finished the series with three home runs, including the opening games walk off two run shot, a double, eight RBI, and three runs scored.
Perez’s walk off Monday night was measured out at 390 feet with an exit velocity of 104 miles per hour.
“I didn’t feel it,” said Perez the next day. “When you don’t feel it, you know you got it. I watched it a little bit.”
Perez made his presence felt on the diamond after the series with Lowell, but Perez has been a presence in the clubhouse all season for the ValleyCats. Perez is a magnet of positivity in the clubhouse and dugout. Taking his spot on the stairs in the dugout, Perez shouts to his team mates and makes sure he helps them remember that it is just a game.
“I need Joe to be that guy, especially being a bilingual guy,” said Guillen. “I think when you meet Joe the first time you won’t get that, because he is very reserved to himself, until he likes you and opens up, so it’s been awesome.”
That energy is something Perez and Guillen have in common, but it is not the only thing they share. Both guys are from Florida, playing at rival high schools, and have the bilingual background that allows them to connect with the Latin American, and American ValleyCats.
“Yea, he played at my rival high school in Miami, that’s why I’ve known him for so long,” said Guillen. “Joe’s very quiet, I compare him to myself a lot. He is very quiet, we both had a little bit of flash and play a little different. I call it the Miami in us.”
Though it took half a season, Perez has had his first “highlight” at Joe Bruno Stadium. A series with a two home run game the day after hitting a walk-off homerun is nothing to shrug a shoulder at, but how the 19 year old continues his development and steers away from any drop off will be the true teller of his big league potential.
“We forget how old he is, and I think he forgets how old he is sometimes,” said Guillen. “Being in a trainers room for two years isn’t fun. I want him to enjoy the game and leave it on the field. I want him to enjoy being on the field and being able to play and run.