Hernan Perez was granted free agency by the Milwaukee Brewers on Nov. 6, 2015. After briefly testing the open market, he chose to re-sign with the Brewers on a minor league deal on Nov. 16, 2015, apparently seeing an opportunity to return to the big leagues despite not being on the 40 man roster. Hernan performed well in the spring and went to AAA Colorado Springs to begin the 2016 season, and was recalled to the Brewers in late April.
The Latin Babe Ruth (so named by Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon last August because he hit him so well) became a very valuable member of the Brewers during the 2016 season (8th most valuable according to BCB readers) by playing every position except pitcher and catcher, hitting well, and stealing 34 bases in 41 attempts. His 430 plate appearances were 5th most on the team. Hernan slashed .272/.302/.428 for an OPS of .730, surpassing the limits imagined for him by many observers.
This winter, Perez has continued to show that his modest breakout at the major league level may be for real. Only 26, LBR has captured the Venezuelan Caribbean League batting title while posting a .373/393/.502 slash and an OPS of .895 with Tigres de Aragua. He slugged three homers along with 9 doubles and two triples, and he also stole 7 bases in 8 attempts in 40 games. Perez played all over the diamond during his time in Venezuela this winter and was honored with the Gold Glove award at third base. (Thanks to Jim Goulart of Brewerfan.net, @Mass_Haas for the heads-up.)
The Brewers intend on using Perez as a utility player again when the 2017 season begins. Their trade of Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox brought third baseman Travis Shaw, a left-handed hitter that could bring some balance to the lineup. That moves Jonathan Villar to second on a regular basis (and Scooter Gennett’s position to limbo status). Keon Broxton should be back from his wrist injury that ended his season last September, so center field is manned. Domingo Santana finally overcame his injuries (shoulder, elbow) and finished the season well (his 2016 second half slash was .280/.344/.508, OPS .852 - he’s playing), and Eric Thames was signed from the Korean league to bring his incipient power and left-handed bat to Milwaukee. Ryan Braun appears to remain ensconced in left, and Orlando Arcia will be at short unless he goes 0 for April.
So what does that mean for Hernan? My guess is that he will have about the same number of opportunities in 2017 as he did in 2016. He will be option 1 or 1A to sub for any of those 7 positions. He will be option 1 or 1A as a pinch hitter. And of course, if Shaw doesn’t hit, Perez could end up the regular third baseman...and if Thames is over matched back in the major leagues, then once again, Hernan to the rescue.
I don’t know that we can expect another bump in Perez’ production, but that wouldn’t be a problem. The level of production he was able to provide last season will work just fine. But at 26, and with his successful campaign in the winter leagues behind him, a better offensive season is certainly a possibility.
I thought Perez was higher on the list of MVBrewers last year, and the security blanket he provides going into 2017 is a welcome change from the bench players of the past several years. Hernan Perez is a very valuable Brewer.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and MiLB.com