Robert Perez Jr. isn’t the first position player the Seattle Mariners organization has brought in this season to help fill up the roster in Triple-A Tacoma, and he likely won’t be the last. But, he is, by quite a margin, the youngest.
After spending his first two seasons of professional baseball with the Dominican Summer League Mariners, the Venezuelan teenager has been slugging for the Rainiers since May.
“This is awesome,” Perez said recently inside the Rainiers’ dugout at Cheney Stadium. “It’s almost like the big leagues. For me, it’s an honor to play here, and also do well.”
The stretch of games Perez, 18, has played with Tacoma this season marks his first stint playing professional baseball in the United States. He was signed by the Mariners when he was 16, still playing in Venezuela.
After the two seasons playing in the Dominican Republic, Perez was sent to Peoria this spring to eventually play short-season rookie ball in the Arizona League. He was sent from extended spring training to the Rainiers nearly a month ago — and has performed better than could have been expected.
Through 16 games with Tacoma, Perez has slashed at .278/.339/.481 with three doubles, a triple, two home runs and seven RBIs. He’s hit safely in 11 games, including at one point posting a seven-game hitting streak.
“I don’t think you can every expect that coming here,” Rainiers manager Daren Brown said. “Obviously we were running a little bit short (on players). He comes up, and he’s shown us he’s got some power.
“For 18 years old, obviously he won’t be here the whole (season), but it should give him a little confidence going into wherever he’s going to play next.”
For developmental purposes, Perez, who is much younger than his teammates, won’t stay with Tacoma for too long, and could end up playing out 2019 with the AZL Mariners or short-season Single-A Everett.
The average age of players in the Pacific Coast League this season is older than 26, and Perez is the youngest position player to appear in the league so far. Right-hander Deivy Florido, now with low Single-A West Virgina, is the youngest player to appear in the PCL this season, having pitched two innings in relief with the Rainiers in April.
“Most of the time in A-ball, they’re all about the same age,” Brown said. “You get to Double-A, and (the age gap is) getting a little bit wider, and then Triple-A and the big leagues, it can be anything. … An older guy in A-ball might be two years older than you. An older guy in Triple-A might be 10 years older than you.
“It gets you closer to what it’s going to be like in a big-league clubhouse. (Perez) has fit in well. I think the older guys get excited to see a young kid come in and have success. It’s been fun.”
Perez said he’s appreciated the opportunity, and it certainly has boosted his confidence.
“For me to compete with these guys, that tells me I’m ready, and I can do big things in baseball,” he said. “Just knowing that I can play here makes me feel better and proud.”
Tacoma has primarily used Perez as a designated hitter, but he played first base and in the outfield during his two years in the DSL.
“This is his first time being here, and he’s shown us there’s something there with the bat,” Brown said. “I don’t know where he’ll actually end up playing defensively — first base, left field, right field — but the bat has been interesting to watch.”
Brown said Perez, at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, doesn’t look like most 18-year-olds, and in some ways reminds of Perez’s father, who played professional baseball in Venezuela and the U.S. for nearly three decades.
“He was a young, right-handed hitting outfielder with some power, and he just kind of hit wherever he went,” Brown said of Robert Perez Sr., whom he played with in the Blue Jays’ minor league system during the 1990s.
The elder Perez played parts of six seasons in the majors from 1994-2001, with Toronto, Seattle, Montreal, the New York Yankees, and Milwaukee. In a brief 17-game stint with the Mariners in 1998, he knocked two home runs and six RBIs.
He also played 27 seasons playing for Cardenales de Lara club in the Venezuelan Winter League, where his son often watched him play. The younger Perez said his father has guided him during his young professional baseball career.
“Without him, maybe I wouldn’t be here,” Perez said. “He’s worked with me from the beginning.”