Royals catcher Perez has bright future
Former backstop Kendall sees great things for youngster
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Ah, what Jason Kendall would give to have his successor's future in Kansas City. He'd take Salvador Perez's next 10 years over Albert Pujols' bank account any day.
"He's a special player," said Kendall, a 15-year Major League veteran staying busy mentoring a group of young catchers in the Royals' camp. "He's got a chance to do some amazing things. With the talent he has, he has a chance to be an All-Star for a long time."
Perez, 21, agreed to a long-term deal that could keep him in a Royals uniform for eight years. It is guaranteed for five years and $7 million with three option years that could bring it to $26.75 million total. It can buy out two potential free agency seasons when he'll be in the 27-28 age range.
Perez said he was willing to give up potential long-term dollars for security in a place where he is extremely comfortable with a collection of young players who could give the "Show Me State" a perennial contender.
That, as Kendall put it, is just part of what makes Salvador Perez so "refreshing."
Blessed with the size (6-foot-3, 244 pounds) and outgoing personality ideally suited to his position, Perez -- following four Minor League seasons -- showed enough in 39 Major League games in 2011 to convince management he's the real deal. He batted .331 with 13 extra-base hits in 148 at-bats.
But the best part of his game is his defense: the soft hands, agility, resilience, positive energy, eagerness to learn. Veteran pitchers couldn't say enough good things about the new kid behind the plate.
Kendall is convinced that Perez -- who said he hopes to play in Kansas City for 20 years -- has the qualities to thrive for years if he can avoid serious injuries.
"Mentally, he's a good kid," Kendall said in the Royals' clubhouse at Surprise Stadium. "He asks questions about calling a game, anything and everything about baseball. It's refreshing. He's got it all, but the big thing with him is his desire to get better every day.
"He's a tough kid, too. You see catchers get a foul ball off the arm and flail around for five minutes. He doesn't do or say a thing. Getting a nick, a bruise is part of it."
Kendall was known for his ability to lead a staff, to understand the psychology of each of his pitchers and how to draw the best out of them. He sees those virtues developing in Perez.
"The catcher is the quarterback, the captain on the field," Kendall said. "That's your job, and he understands. You've got to be able to take control. He wants the responsibility.
"And you better be prepared, day in and day out. Your first priority is your pitchers. You can't have a bad at-bat and take it out there behind the plate. You have to know all of your pitchers -- and the guy you're facing that day.
"It's a lot to take on, but he wants it. It's a big job, and you've got to enjoy it. To me, it was fun -- and that's what I see in Salvador."
Royals manager Ned Yost sees unique qualities in his youthful receiver.
"He's the total package," Yost said. "I've never seen anybody that compares to him."
Greeting Perez, one is immediately struck by his luminous smile -- and his right hand. It makes you wonder what happened to your own when he shakes it. Your hand disappears inside his catcher's mitt of flesh and bone.
Very quickly, his eyes large and alive and his in-progress English endearing, Perez calls to mind a Venezuelan star from another era: Andres "The Big Cat" Galarraga.
Growing up in his hometown of Valencia, Perez was the biggest shortstop on the playground as a young teen. That's where he developed an arm that Kendall calls "as good as I've seen -- and this is my 20th year in baseball."
Perez gets rid of the ball quickly with accurate lasers.
"I was 14 or 15 when a scout told me I should become a catcher if I want to go to the big leagues," Perez said. "So I became a catcher. I loved it right away. You're always in the game.
"I'm trying to make myself a better player every day. I have so much to learn. You never can learn enough; that's what [Kendall] tells me. I ask him what I need to work on, and he says, `Everything.'"
Asked about the cannon passing for a right arm, Perez shows his humble side.
"I love to throw -- it's fun," he said, grinning. "But I can get better. I can get better in everything."
The youthful talent the Royals put on the field this season will be as exciting as any lineup in the American League Central. They'll go as far as their arms -- and Perez's guidance -- take them.
"It's great to be part of a young team like this," Perez said. "We have so much talent -- and great guys, too. Everyone gets along."
Kendall knows catchers as only catchers can. He played until a serious shoulder injury forced the Royals to rip the uniform off him in September 2010.
Undersized for the position at 6-foot and 181 to 192 pounds, he caught 2,025 Major League games for five organizations.
Asked if he'd like to be starting over in Perez's frame -- true fantasy baseball -- Kendall seemed to drift away momentarily.
"Oh, man," he said. "That'd be so much fun. I love this game."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.