Perez working to break out of his shell

Young catcher looks to increase vocal presence with Halos

March 9th, 2016

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Every morning last spring, Angels coach Steve Soliz and rookie catcher Carlos Perez met at a makeshift infield beyond Tempe Diablo Stadium's center-field fence to practice. Not blocking, receiving or throwing, but talking, communicating -- screaming.
Perez -- who homered and racked up three RBIs in the Angels' 5-3 victory over the D-backs on Tuesday -- is soft-spoken and shy, two things catchers can't really be. They have to speak up in meetings, they have to maintain constant communication with their pitchers and they continually have to bark out orders for the infielders.
So every 8 a.m. in March last spring, Soliz would improvise situations -- "leadoff hitter is left-handed," "first and second with none out," "one-run game in the ninth" -- and Perez would act as if he were screaming instructions during a game.
"'I want to hear you,'" Soliz would tell Perez. "'I want the fan in the 15th row to hear you. That's what it's going to take.'"
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When the instructions weren't loud enough, Soliz made him repeat them.
When his tone wouldn't translate to a game, Soliz was the first to let him know.
"His confidence is a byproduct of that," said Soliz, who was the Angels' bullpen coach last year and is now the catching and information coach. "As he got more vocal, and he saw players were buying into it, his confidence came, and he became the catcher that he is today, where it allowed him to receive, block and throw, and be that guy, and command a game."
Perez, 25, has two brothers who are also named Carlos Perez, raised by a father named Carlos Perez. One sibling (middle name: Tomas) is a 28-year-old who briefly played in the Cubs' system, the other (middle name: Jesus) is a 19-year-old with the White Sox.
The Angels' Perez (middle name: Eduardo) didn't become a catcher until weeks before he signed his first professional contract. At 16, he attended a tryout with the Indians -- new Angels outfielder Rafael Ortega was also there -- and took fly balls in left field. The Indians asked Perez to make some throws to second base from a catcher's squat, and then, suddenly, Perez became a catcher.
The Blue Jays signed him in January 2008, the Astros acquired him in July 2012 and the Angels traded for him in November 2014, sending Hank Conger to Houston in a deal centered on attaining young starting pitcher Nick Tropeano.
Perez always had soft hands and a strong throwing arm. Along the way, he grasped the nuances of blocking and receiving. And as he grew, he also began to hit. But Perez's personality went unchanged. He was quiet, kept to himself and was severely apprehensive about his English. He didn't understand the importance of speaking out for his position until he played his first full season in the Major Leagues last year.
"To take on that leadership role, you have to talk a little bit, make your presence felt," Perez said in Spanish, though his English is also sufficient. "It's a challenge. It's my personality. But I've felt a lot better."

Geovany Soto, far more extroverted, is doing his best to help.
The 33-year-old was signed for $2.8 million over the offseason to help supplement the Angels' catching depth and also to mentor Perez, to help him find his voice. When they first met, Soto shook Perez's hand and told him, "You're the man. I'm going to follow you. You don't have to follow me."
"It meant so much," Perez said. "It helped me relax."
During long lulls of silence in catchers' meetings, Soto will tap Perez underneath the table.
"Talk," he'll whisper.
During games, Soto will make eye contact with Perez and point to his ear.
"I haven't heard you in a while," he'll tell him.
"I want him to feel like he belongs," Soto said. "Sometimes we don't want to get in the way, we want to be very humble, we don't want to [upset] anybody. 'No, you belong here. You're one of us. I want you to feel that you're not just coming in; you are part of this. You're the man.' I'm trying to get him to feel that, so he can carry that with him."
Perez was called up to the Major Leagues in early May last year because he was hitting well in Triple-A and the Angels' starting catcher, Chris Iannetta, was not. The two shared time behind the plate for most of the ensuing summer, until Iannetta struggled again and Perez took hold of the job for good at the start of September.
"Playing with him for as long as I have," Tropeano said, "you can see how much he's grown."
Perez finished his rookie season with a .250/.299/.346 slash line in 283 plate appearances, and the Angels were impressed enough with his defensive skills and overall presence that they let Iannetta walk and didn't commit many resources to alternative options.
Now, Perez figures to get the majority of the time behind the plate.
His first game of 2016 came last Wednesday, against the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium. Soliz quickly noticed Perez wasn't being loud enough, so he approached him when he returned to the dugout.
"Hey," Soliz told him, "do we have to go back and do that drill again?"
"No, no," Perez said, smiling. "I got it."
"My personality is quiet," Perez says now, "but I'm getting better."