A Look At New A's Infielder Antonio Perez

Antonio Perez played for the 51s in 2004.

When the Oakland A's swapped prospect Andre Ethier to the Los Angeles Dodgers, most of the press surrounding the trade involved the A's acquisition of outfielder Milton Bradley. Although Bradley is certainly the most likely player of the two the A's received from LA to have a major impact on the A's 2006 season, the other player could certainly play a large role for the team. So who is Antonio Perez? We take a look at his career to date and project how he might fit into the A's roster.

Antonio Perez has had an up and down career, to say the least. The 25 year-old infielder was once thought so highly of that he was one of the main pieces in the Ken Griffey Jr. trade in 2000, going from Cincinnati to Seattle. However, his stock fell precipitously from 2000 to 2002, when he was a throw-in along with Manager Lou Pinella to go to Tampa Bay for outfielder Randy Winn. He would later be traded again, this time to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for outfielder Jason Romano in 2004.

So what can we take from the fact that Oakland is Perez's fifth organization in only eight seasons of professional baseball? Well, for one, Perez certainly has had to be adaptable during his career. It also could mean that while Perez's talent can be tantalizing, he has had trouble meeting the high expectations of a number of organizations.

There has always been a lot to like about Perez's game. He was signed by the Reds as an amateur free agent in 1998 from his native Dominican Republic. He would debut in the United States a year later, playing as a 19 year-old in the Midwest League. He impressed right away, hitting .288 and slugging 30 extra-base hits in 383 at-bats. He would also swipe 35 bases, although he was caught 24 times.

Perez was traded that off-season to Seattle and he immediately opened a lot of eyes with a strong campaign for Lancaster of the California League in 2000. The young right-handed hitter posted an 897 OPS, hitting 17 homers, six triples and 36 doubles. He would also steal 28 bases (although he was still caught 16 times). That performance earned him a trip to the Arizona Fall League, where he was one of the youngest players on display.

Although Perez was still very raw in 2000, he did impress scouts by hitting three homeruns and showing good footwork turning the double-play. Many projected that Perez would be one of the better players to come out of that AFL campaign, a roster that included guys like Albert Pujols, Kevin Mench and Hee-Seop Choi. However, Perez's direct path to the big leagues would veer a bit in 2001 when he missed most of the season with a wrist injury.

Perez was healthy for much of the season in 2002, but he fell well below expectations. He managed only a 645 OPS in 72 games for AA-San Antonio. That off-season he was dealt to Tampa in the Lou Pinella-Randy Winn deal and it appeared that the once bright prospect was never going to realize his potential.

The change of scenery to the Tampa organization seemed to do Perez some good, and in 2003, he regained some of his prospect status by putting together a solid season. He began the year in AA-Orlando, where he compiled an 855 OPS in 24 games. He was promoted to AAA-Durham, where he posted an 862 OPS in 34 contests. That performance earned him his first trip to the major leagues. He logged 48 games with the Devil Rays in 2003 and got 125 at-bats. Although he didn't show much power in this big league appearance (only nine extra-base hits), he did show a good eye at the plate, posting a .345 OBP despite a .248 BA.

Perez didn't have a long-term reservation in the Devil Rays' plans, as he was being shadowed closely in the minors by super-prospect BJ Upton and he had major league veteran Julio Lugo playing in front of him at the major league level. That off-season the Devil Rays moved Perez to the Dodgers.

Despite his decent showing at the big league level in 2003, he wasn't in the Dodgers' plans for 2004 with Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora playing in front of him. Perez played most of the season with the AAA-Las Vegas 51's and he took advantage of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League and the thin air in Vegas to post an outstanding offensive campaign. Perez clubbed a career-high 22 homeruns and posted an 890 OPS in 125 games. He stole 22 bases and walked 61 times. He was a September call-up with the Dodgers, where he collected three hits in 13 at-bats.

Perez was able to find his way into the Dodgers' plans for 2005, especially after Los Angeles began to experience their spate of injuries. He had to recover from an injury of his own (wrist) at the beginning of the season and he spent 16 games in AAA on a rehab assignment. Upon returning to the Dodgers, Perez received the most major league playing time of his career, logging 98 games and receiving 259 at-bats. He responded by hitting .297 with a .360 OBP. He didn't hit for much power (he posted a meager .398 SLG, which could have been an after-effect from the early-season wrist injury), but he showed good speed (11 SB in 15 chances).

Perez also had to make a transition in the field in 2005. Primarily a shortstop early in his career, Perez had spent time in recent years at second base. However, he was forced to play a lot of third base for the Dodgers in 2005 thanks to an injury to Jose Valentine. Although most reports peg Perez as a solid middle infielder, he struggled with the transition to third. There were some whispers amongst Dodger officials that Perez was not all that eager to put work into becoming a decent third baseman.

Any hopes that Perez would be able to work on his third base defense this winter evaporated quickly when Perez was struck in the face by an Anastacio Martinez pitch while playing for the Gigantes del Ciabo of the Dominican Winter League. Perez missed most of the winter campaign season with the fractured left cheekbone, although he is supposed to be at full strength at the start of spring training.

This is an unfortunate development, as the A's are hoping that Perez can spell Eric Chavez at third base on occasion next season to rest the A's star's balky right-shoulder. Look for Perez to spend a lot of time with A's infield coaching guru Ron Washington during spring training. He will likely get a lot of game-time at third during the spring while Chavez competes for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

So based on his track record, what should the A's expect from Perez? For starters, they should have a versatile complement to back-up infielder Marco Scutaro. While Perez may not be as strong defensively as Scutaro, he has more offensive upside than does Scutaro and he is a bigger stolen base threat. Although Perez has struggled throughout his career with caught stealings, he did improve on that aspect of his game in 2005 and will likely be only given the green light to steal in high-percentage situations with Oakland. He does give the A's a legitimate speed threat at the end of games off of the bench, something they haven't really had in recent years.

Perez also gives the A's insurance in case either Mark Ellis or Bobby Crosby were to go down with a major injury again. Perez has shown that he can make a positive contribution with the bat, something that the A's have lacked from their back-up middle infielders in years past. Although Perez hasn't demonstrated much power at the major league level, he does have that potential based on his minor league track-record. He also has shown that he can work the count well and draw walks, something that will be valued highly by the A's brass.

If Perez can prove to the A's coaching staff that he can handle his positions in the field in the spring, he could earn a lot of playing time with Oakland in 2006. Recent A's history has been littered with major injuries to their middle infielders and the A's have already announced that they intend to try to give Chavez days off from third to rest his arm. The A's have been placing a priority on infield defense over offense in recent years, so if Perez can't show consistency in the field early on, the A's will likely give that playing time back to Scutaro, who has been a solid gloveman for Oakland. However, if Perez can make all the plays he should make, look for him to get 200-300 at-bats, as well as some late-game pinch-running opportunities.

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