Roberto Perez might have the toughest job of any Aeros player this season.
Not only does the 5-foot-11, 227-pound Perez have the normal workload of a minor-league catcher — studying all of the team’s pitchers and warming them up as well as catching during games and often on the side.
Perez also finds time to squeeze in work on his own game.
And this season, he has the added the responsibility of being the personal catcher of Aeros knuckleball pitcher Steven Wright.
Catching Wright’s knuckleball is difficult because not even Wright knows where it is going half the time. That can make a catcher feel helpless, but Perez loves the challenge.
He requested at the beginning of the season to be in on all of Wright’s bullpen sessions, even if the coaching staff believes it might be more beneficial to give his legs the occasional break.
“I’ve always been a catcher,” said Perez, who began playing baseball when he was 5 years old and was a catcher by the time he was 8. “And I’ve always loved it. Baseball is baseball. The game is the same to me whether I’m catching a knuckleball pitcher or a regular pitcher.”
A native of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Perez is in his fourth season in the Indians’ minor-league system after being a 33rd-round pick in the 2008 draft out of Florida’s Lake City Community College.
In his first professional season in 2009, Perez played in the Arizona Summer League, then moved up to short-season Mahoning Valley and low Class-A Lake County. He then repeated a level with the Captains in 2010, batting .217 in 118 games.
But Perez’s above-average catching skills have helped him advance a level the past two seasons, even as his batting skills have lagged. Despite hitting .225 at high Class-A Kinston last season, he was promoted to Double-A to begin this season. Through 18 games with the Aeros, Perez is batting .200 with a double, triple, home run and two RBI.
“He’s a very good defensive catcher who throws well above average,” Aeros manager Chris Tremie said. “He blocks the ball well and receives well.”
Perez’s advanced defensive skills (he’s thrown out 5-of-11 potential base-stealers) are why he was tabbed to be Wright’s catcher.
“The only way to continue to get better at it [catching the knuckleball] is to keep catching it,” he said.
A career .242 hitter, Perez, 23, arrives at Canal Park daily at 1 p.m. in order to spend time working on his offensive skills.
“I think he’s going to show the ability to hit even better than he has in the past,” Tremie said. “He’s had high on-base percentages in the past and works his at-bats. I think the more experience and at-bats he gets, he’ll become a better hitter.”
As proud as Perez is of his catching skills, his goal this season is to become a more complete player.
“I should be looking middle away every time at the plate,” he said. “But sometimes I get caught up trying to do too much and find I’m overswinging. But when I stay within myself, I’m pretty good at getting on base. My catching is always my number one priority. But I want to be more consistent offensively so I can help my team in other ways.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.