by Kody Acevedo
TEMPE, Ariz. — As a former big league catcher, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has a sharper focus when it comes to grooming young catchers.
It’s something he takes pride in, not just during Spring Training, but all season long.
“The position you might have played, you’re always drawn to it to some point,” Scioscia said. “It happens to be such a focal point of a manager because you’re looking at that pitcher executing a pitch. That’s where most of your focus is on. So, it becomes an area of a lot of attention.”
He’s had a number of guys work behind the plate for him over the years, but this season Scioscia had to make a tough decision over what to do with Carlos Perez.
Perez, the 26-year-old from Venezuela, made his major league debut with the Angels in May 2015. He arrived with a splash, crushing a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Seattle Mariners 5-4 in his debut.
“It’s something you can’t imagine,” Perez said as he reflected on that moment this spring. “On the first day in the (major) leagues and you do that. It’s something you can’t forget. It’s always in my mind and I’m happy to have (it).”
Over the last two seasons, Perez has hit .229 with nine homers and 52 RBI in 528 at-bats. In 2016, Perez was considered the team’s primary catcher. He appeared in 87 games and then-backup Jett Bandy played in 70.
But the Angels front office decided there needed to be improvements and traded Bandy to Milwaukee for catcher Martin Maldonado and pitcher Drew Gagnon.
Suddenly, Perez was in a battle to simply see time on the field.
“Both guys are very, very talented defensively,” Scioscia said. “We expect Martin to go out there and catch more games, but obviously there’s always at bats to be won and games to be won by how you play.”
Maldonado hit .202/.332/.351 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs for the Brewers last season. Offensively, the two put up pretty similar numbers.
Scioscia said Perez has been working this spring to improve his game both offensively and defensively.
“Carlos made some adjustments with helping him get into pitches more, be able to control the bottom half of the zone, and he’s done very well with that,” Scioscia said.
(Video by Tyler Paley/Cronkite News)
Perez said he’s learned a lot from Scioscia over the last two years and looks to bring a high level of energy for his team on the field.
“One of the things he always tells me is be like a quarterback (behind) home plate,” Perez said. “You’re the guy that everybody is looking at you and trying to be like the energy level and trying to give that to the play.”
Both agreed that their relationship is as strong as it always has been despite what looks to be a smaller amount of playing time for Perez in 2017.
“He’s a terrific receiver. Throws well. He’s trying something a little different at the plate, but I think he’s comfortable there,” Scioscia said of Perez.
Despite the addition of Maldonado, Perez said he’s focused only on improving his own game.
“The last few years I’ve learned a lot of things,” Perez said. “(Scioscia has) taught me a lot of things. Focusing on home plate, anything he sees, he’ll tell me. And I try to get better every day.”