Saturday, February 21, 2015

Favorite Braves List - Backup Catcher

(Previous information on this series can be found here. Of importance, this is not a best list, but a favorites list since I started to follow the Braves. That limits options from 1991-to-now.)

Favorite Braves List (so far)
Ace Starter - Greg Maddux
#2 Starter - John Smoltz
#3 Starter - Tim Hudson
#4 Starter - Tom Glavine

Closer - Craig Kimbrel
Catcher - Brian McCann
First Base - Fred McGriff
Second Base - Marcus Giles
Shortstop - Andrelton Simmons
Third Base - Chipper Jones 
Left Field - Ryan Klesko
Center Field - Andruw Jones
Right Field - Jason Heyward

Honorable Mention: Charlie O'Brien was an influential catcher for his redesigned catcher masks, but he was also a solid guy to pair with the young Javy Lopez. David Ross was as good as backup catchers go, even snaking a playoff start from Brian McCann because he was outperforming the injured McCann.

Favorite Braves List - Backup Catcher
Eddie Perez

I have made it to the bench for My Favorite Team and there's nowhere better to start than to find a backup for our starting catcher. Today's option is the perfect compliment to McCann.

It takes a special perseverance to keep plodding along year-after-year in the minors as prospects pass you by on their way to the majors. It also takes a special player and Eddie Perez is not only that, but also a special person. Originally signed out of Venezuela in 1986, it would take Perez nine years in the minors to finally get to the point where he could claim a spot in the majors, but once he did, he endeared himself to teammates and fans alike.

A smart player with superb glove work, Perez played in places the Braves have long stopped working relationships with such as Burlington, Iowa and Sumter, South Carolina. There wasn't anything amazing about his minor league reign. He did hit pretty well in 1991 for Durham, posting a .728 OPS and setting a personal-high with nine homers. He actually played first base a lot to allow Lopez to get the bulk of starts behind the plate. Perez would play two seasons in Greenville and two in Richmond with a cup of coffee with the big-league Braves in 1995. Due to Bobby Cox's desire to carry three catchers in the playoffs, Perez was even on the postseason roster, though he never got an at-bat.

O'Brien, who had been the primary backup for Lopez during his first two years in the majors, left for more playing time with the Toronto Blue Jays after getting a ring with the Braves. That finally gave Perez the chance to win a spot on the bench in 1996. Greg Maddux would eventually call on Perez to be his personal catcher after not feeling comfortable with Lopez, leading to Perez and Maddux's working relationship. Perez still couldn't hit much, but he did post a surprising .336 average in 1998 with a .941 OPS, out-performing Lopez's weak .868 OPS.

This led to 1999 and Perez's only real shot at being a full-time catcher for the Braves. For the first few months, Perez was doing his typical personal catcher gig, but Lopez was dinged up here-and-there, leading to chances to start more. Finally, in late July, Lopez suffered a knee injury that would sideline him for the rest of the year. This sent Perez to the top of the depth chart. He would not touch his 1998 stats, but he did perform better once he settled into his starting role, hitting .252/.321/.417 after Lopez was hurt. Add that occasional offence with his defense, Perez provided the Braves with enough value. Though the Braves did pick up Greg Myers, he wasn't a threat to Perez's playing time.

1999 ended with another trip to the playoffs and after a four-single performance in the NLDS against the Astros, Perez would put the Braves on his back for a wonderful NLCS run. He had a double and a homer in Game One while also providing a sacrifice bunt that led to the final run in a 4-2 win. He even threw out Roger Cedeno, who had stole 66 bases that year. Perez would have a couple more hits in Game Two, including a two-run blast in the sixth inning that provided the difference in a 4-3 win. He added two more hits in Game Three and this time threw out Shawon Dunston. Game Four was his worst game of the series. He went hitless at the plate and yielded a trio of steals. He did reach base three times in Game Five, but was gone by the time Robin Ventura blasted his famous 15th inning Grand Slam Single. Perez was back with a vengeance in Game Six. His two-run single in the first was part of a five-run first inning. A sacrifice in the sixth led to a two-run single by Jose Hernandez to put the Braves up 7-3. After the Mets tied up the game and eventually went ahead, Perez started a rally in the 8th with a single. Otis Nixon would run for him and swipe second before scoring the game-tying run. Of course, the Braves would end up winning in 11 and in doing so, gave this blog its name.

Overall, Perez was 10-for-20 in the NLCS with 2 doubles, 2 HR, and five driven in. He was selected the MVP of the series. Unfortunately, he was not nearly as successful in the World Series. Perez would suffer through a pair of injury-filled campaigns over the next two seasons before the Braves moved him to the Indians for a minor leaguer before the 2002 season. After two seasons away, Perez would return to Atlanta, but this time he would backup first-year starter Johnny Estrada. He returned to do the same thing in 2005, but shoulder tendinitis sidelined him for most the season, opening the door for a young Brian McCann. Perez would eventually make it back, but only to ground-out in his final at-bat on September 27, 2005.

The next season, he would serve as a player/coach for Mississippi before Bobby Cox named him his bullpen coach in 2007, a role he has served ever since. When people talk about possible replacements for Fredi Gonzalez, Perez's name naturally comes up. He has managed three seasons in the Venezuelan Winter League and is a well-respected coach who wants the shot. Whether that means he'll be a good fit for Atlanta, I don't know. Maybe he should cut his teeth in the minors as a manager for a few seasons. Either way, Perez is likely going to be interviewing for managerial positions over the next few years and might even get a chance, even if it's not in Atlanta. Then again, considering the current regime's love for the Braves Way, what better choice for amanager than a guy who who stuck around in the minors forever just to get a shot in Atlanta?

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