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‘I feel like I already need to be there’: Perez looking for improved bat during sixth minor-league season

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Cardinals minor-league spring training day four in Jupiter

Cardinal minor-league infielder Delvin Perez right takes batting practice on Thursday, March 10, 2022, during day four of minor-league spring training at the practice facility in Jupiter, Fla. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

During an interview just outside of the Springfield Cardinals’ clubhouse in Springfield, Mo., former first-round pick Delvin Perez didn’t hesitate to answer when asked about what he hopes to show the Cardinals organization in his sixth season of minor-league baseball.

“That I’m ready to get to the major-leagues,” the 23-year-old said in Spanish. “I want to play in the major-leagues. I feel like I already need to be there.”

But for the San Juan, Puerto Rico native who is off to a sluggish start at the plate to begin the 2022 Class AA season, he understands where he needs to show that progression for him to move up through the minor-league ranks.

“Obviously hitting is really hard,” Perez said. “I think that’s where I need to keep improving in.”

Perez entered the season as a career .255 hitter across five MiLB seasons since he was the 23rd overall pick in 2018. Through 34 games into 2022, he is slashing .203/.312/.237 with 11 RBIs and no homers in 118 at-bats in his second season with Double-A Springfield.

“Like they say, this level is like the big-leagues," Perez said of playing in Double-A. "Here everybody knows what they need to do. They know how to pitch to you, how to attack you. This league overall is competitive and you need to be ready 100% of the time.”

Nearly two months into his second year at the Double-A level, Perez has shown improvements with his walk rate. Perez entered Tuesday with a 12.3% walk rate, per FanGraphs after he had a 6.6% rate in 98 games in 2021.

"The one thing he is doing better than last year is laying off bad pitches," Springfield manager Jose Leger said. "He's been able to give you more quality at-bats."

The 23-year-old said his improvements in laying off bad pitches begins with more attentiveness while in the on-deck circle and the mentality to step in the box looking for his pitch.

"Plate discipline is getting better, a lot better," Perez said in English.

It’s also something that Leger, who managed Perez in 2021, said is coming along with the Perez’s maturation as a player.

The next step for him, however, is for the hits to come with the better walk rate.

"I mean, this is his second year in Double-A, so he understands that," Leger said. "He's working hard at it. He wants to get good pitches to hit, and he's more focused in that aspect. I know, unfortunately, the numbers are not there... but he's working hard and at least he's got the right mentality to help fix that."

However, those opportunities may not come as frequently as Springfield's shortstop. With the recent promotion from Class High-A Peoria to Springfield for shortstop and former second-round pick Masyn Winn, Perez will get get playing time at other positions.

On May 17, Perez made his first career start in center field which was also his first minor-league start at a position other than shortstop. Since then, Perez has started at two games at third base and two in right field.

“We're just exploring options here,” Leger said. “We want to see how much he can provide defensively. It's always valuable to have a guy on the roster that can play multiple positions, come off the bench, and fill in some position of a guy that you want to rest or what not.

“And obviously, if the bat plays, eventually he's going to earn a position whether that is at short or in the outfield, like a starting position, I mean. But if not, then you can always provide value by coming in to pinch-run and then play a different position."

Fielding and base stealing are what Perez feels like are his more refined tools. He is 11-for-11 on stolen base attempts this year and nabbed 22 bags in 2019 and 24 in 2021.

Coming into 2022, he started 267 games at shortstop throughout his minor-league career and finished last year with a career-best .956 fielding percentage.

During spring training, Perez’s glove skills also stood out to Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol, who saw the former first-round in limited action during the Grapefruit League.

“He's one that sticks out to me because he has been up here with us in the past,” Marmol said of Perez during one of the final days of spring training. “He wasn't able this year to get the playing time and everything needed with the shortened spring training, but he played a really good defense whenever we've had him in there. And he is going about it in a way that is more mature, which I think will end up having good results with his skill set.”

But even with his defensive skills and success as a base stealer, the hope is for his bat skills to catch up.

“He's definitely a guy that has tools,” Leger said. “There is a reason why he was drafted in the first round. But right now, he's just going through a little bit of funk, and he's trying to get out of it.”

Daniel Guerrero

@TheDanielGuerrero on Twitter

dguerrerro@post-dispatch.com

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