COMMENTARY | It was obvious to anyone who'd watched the San Francisco Giants over the past month or so that they had needed a shot in the arm; the question was, who would provide it? Would it be the once-vaunted starting rotation that had fallen on hard times? Would it come from the lineup that just couldn't seem to score enough runs? Might one of the Giants' heralded prospects come up from the minors and help turn things around?
The Giants got their shot in the arm, but it didn't come from any of the above mentioned sources. Instead, it came from a virtually anonymous rookie who was nothing more than organizational depth to most observers before his call up.
Juan Perez is that arm-shot provider (for lack of a better term). A former 13 th round pick of the Giants in 2008, Perez has worked his way through literally every level of the Giants' minor league system over the past five years. He's been a solid but not spectacular player (a career .279/.319/.431 minor league line with 46 HRs and 87 stolen bases) and looked like a guy who could be a fourth or fifth outfielder in the major leagues if things broke his way. He never generated the buzz of a prospect like Gary Brown or even Roger Kieschnick, and most Giants fans acted with general apathy when Perez was called up to replace the injured Angel Pagan.
That apathy quickly gave way to excitement after watching Perez play. He's been a catalyst for the Giants, a dynamic player capable of affecting a game with his bat, his legs, and his arm. Coming into Thursday's game with the Marlins, Perez was hitting .348/.333/.348 and drove in the run that won a crucial game for the Giants against division rival San Diego earlier in the week. During that game, Perez also threw out the potential go-ahead run at the plate. It was his fourth outfield assist since his debut, and that's already enough to lead the Giants in that category. He has a cannon for an arm, the best the Giants have seen since Nate Schierlholtz left town last year. He's made some spectacular catches in centerfield and there doesn't appear to be a catchable ball he can't get to. The only thing Perez hasn't done is hit for power (all of his hits have been singles), but that will likely come with more at-bats.
For a guy who was supposed to provide depth to an injury-depleted outfield and nothing more, Perez has forced his way into consideration for more playing time even when Pagan comes back. It's not a stretch to say he's on equal footing on the depth chart with Andres Torres, and if he keeps playing at a high level Perez might even start to push Gregor Blanco. Perez is also the best defensive outfielder on the roster already and could find himself as a late-inning replacement for Pagan and his balky hamstring. And if that wasn't enough, Perez has played the infield during his time in the minors and could provide the Giants with depth there, too.
It's always a nice surprise when a homegrown guy without a lot of hype surrounding him can contribute to the big league club's success, and that's exactly what's happening with Perez. Even if he doesn't keep up the pace he's on - chances are he's not going to hit .348 over a full season - Perez is proving he belongs in the major leagues and has the tools to be a valuable player going forward.
The Giants may have found a gem in their own system, one they may not have known they even had. And he just might be the catalyst they need to get their season back on track.
Dave Tobener is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer who's covered the Giants for the better part of a decade. His work has appeared on numerous sports websites, including Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew. You can follow him on Twitter @gggiants.
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