Puerto Rican shortstop Delvin Perez is just 17, but the St. Louis Cardinals are confident he will grow up fast.
Perez, the Cardinals’ first pick (23rd overall) in the amateur draft June 9, passed his physical and received a signing bonus of just more than $2.2 million Friday.
Perez celebrated the occasion by taking ground balls at Busch Stadium and hitting in the cage, the prelude to reporting to the Gulf Coast League Cardinals on Saturday.
“I feel so proud to be here,” Perez said through translator Alexandra Naboa. “I’m more than willing and ready to do whatever it takes to make history on this team. ... I feel blessed and I’m thankful to God. It’s always been a dream of mine (to play professional baseball), and now it’s finally here and I get to to do it.”
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PED question marks
The Cardinals were second-guessed about picking Perez since he tested positive for steroids in May.
But they’re accustomed to the second-guessing. They heard similar rumblings in November 2013 after they signed shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53-million free-agent contract. Peralta had served a 50-game suspension for testing positive for PEDs while with the Detroit Tigers. St. Louis also hired PED offender Mark McGwire to be its hitting instructor in 2010.
“Clearly, many of you speculated on how we did it, why we did it,” Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said of selecting Perez, whose draft stock slipped after the positive test. “We’re not running from the fact that he did test positive for a PED. He understands that, he’ll acknowledge that and he’s sorry for that.
“One of the things that the St. Louis Cardinals have always believed in is giving people a second chance. One of the things we’ve always believed in is being opportunistic. This draft allowed us to do that. We have a very talented player (Perez). He’s excited to join this organization and we’re thrilled to give him this opportunity.”
Perez said he took steroids from a friend, hoping they would help him retain his weight (180 pounds) and maintain his health.
“I didn’t know what I was taking,” he said. “It was a mistake. It was an ignorant mistake. A friend gave it to me and I took it ... to not lose weight and stay healthy.”
Perez regrets the lapse in judgment and acknowledged the gamble he took.
“I was clear that there would be a possibility that the positive test would affect my career, but I was just waiting on a call from my agent,” Perez said, adding that joining the Cardinals is “truly an honor.”
The scouting report
Perez is considered an above-average fielder with a quick release and a strong arm. The right-handed hitter has much work to do, however, to improve offensively.
“I’ll try to work hard on the batting. But I’m really fast and (good at) fielding,” said Perez, identifying former New York Yankees great Derek Jeter as his hero. “He’s an exceptional leader. He’s never had any type of problems, setbacks, anything. I admired that throughout his entire career.”
First-year Cardinals Scouting Director Randy Flores said Perez will need plenty of time to hone his skills.
“If you think that, in several years, he’ll be the age of many of the other players that we drafted,” said Flores, the former Cardinals reliever. “For other players, he’ll still be younger in several years. He’ll go to Florida (on Saturday) to the Gulf Coast League to begin giving him the reps and the time necessary to let his talent develop.”
Flores said the Cardinals had been aware of Perez for the last two-plus years, and the team was thrilled to have a chance to pick him. Perez was expected to be a top-10 pick before testing positive for steroids.
“There was not any thought that he would be anywhere close to our board up until hours or days before the draft,” Flores said. “Even then, you’re not certain until that pick, No. 22, happens and he’s looking right at you. At that time, on our board, looking at his talent and the opportunity we had to acquire him, we were thrilled to make that pick.”
Mozeliak said the Cardinals viewed Perez as a young man who made a mistake.
“The biggest thing for us was understanding that he’s 17 years old,” Mozeliak said. “He made a mistake. He recognizes that mistake. He’s sorry for that. The fact that he’s sitting here in front of all of you (media), he’s not running from it. He’s taking ownership of that. From our standpoint, we admire that. We certainly wish it didn’t happen, but had it not happened, he’s probably not sitting here.”
Perez was the second first-round pick signed this week by the Cardinals.
Switch-hitting outfielder Dylan Carlson, 17, the second pick in the first round (33rd overall), received a $1.35-million signing bonus Wednesday. Carlson, who played at Elk Grove High in California, reported Thursday to the Gulf Coast League Cardinals. Carlson was a Cal State Fullerton recruit.
Still unsigned are the team’s third first-round pick, right-handed pitcher Dakota Hudson, second-round pick Connor Jones, a right-handed pitcher, and third-round pick Zac Gallen, also a right-handed pitcher.
St. Louis has signed 23 of its 42 draft picks, including eight of the 12 players it selected in the first 10 rounds. The Cardinals also have signed four free agents that were not drafted.
Teams have until 4 p.m. on July 15 to sign players from the draft. Otherwise, they will re-enter the 2017 draft or go to college.