Carlos Pérez looks like odds-on-favorite to begin 2023 as A’s backup catcher

Leave it to Ken Korach to sum up the situation perfectly. 

As Carlos Pérez high-fived his teammates in the home dugout at the Oakland Coliseum on Sunday afternoon, celebrating his booming solo shot to left field, the longtime A’s radio man Korach said, “He was in Mexico, getting ready to play down there a week ago. And now he’s got a shot to make this club. That’s baseball.”

When the A’s announced that Manny Piña would start the season on the injured list last week, manager Mark Kotsay told reporters that the organization would leave the door open for top prospect Tyler Soderstrom to make the opening day roster. A couple days later, the A’s signed Pérez to a minor-league deal with a chance to make the 26-man roster while Piña is out with a left wrist problem.

At this point, Pérez is probably the odds-on-favorite to start the year as Shea Langeliers’ backup. He’s been on a tear since joining the A’s this past week, highlighted by this impressive blast in the ninth inning of Sunday’s loss to the Giants.

Three days before the A’s picked him up, Pérez had signed a contract with the Acereros de Monclova – a Mexican baseball powerhouse that has featured former A’s like Josh Reddick, Bartolo Colón and Chris Carter in the past.

“You can tell when he got here that he spent his offseason working and getting himself physically ready,” Kotsay told reporters Sunday, via A’s media relations. “From that standpoint, a physicality standpoint, he’s definitely ready. He’s caught his whole life, he’s in his 30s and experienced. He knows our organization and he’s familiar with what we do. All those things kinda line up. For me, even though it would be a short timeframe, if we go that direction, I’m confident in Carlos being able to handle the role.”

The 32-year-old Pérez has four years of big-league experience but hasn’t appeared in an MLB game since 2018, when he split time with the Atlanta Braves (eight games) and Texas Rangers (20 games). His offensive numbers in The Show aren’t great, but he’s shown flashes of power – as he’s slashed .215/.257/.319 with 11 homers and 58 RBIs in 212 games.

Over the past two seasons he’s been putting up big numbers in Triple-A but never got a callup. He spent the 2021 season in the A’s organization with the Las Vegas Aviators, totaling 31 dingers, 89 RBI and a .269/.337/.572 slash line in just 97 games and 418 plate appearances. Pérez followed that up with another 31-dinger campaign in 2022 (117 games) for the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes in the Colorado Rockies organization, with 87 RBI and a .254/.341/.524 slash line. In those two seasons, he has compiled 88 walks and 163 strikeouts.

There’s definitely some pop in the bat. Kotsay sounds confident in his ability to handle a big-league rotation as well.

“We’ve already begun accelerating his familiarity with the pitching staff,” Kotsay said. “He caught Fuji (Saturday) and didn’t have any issues. He looked fine. Again, he doesn’t have a ton of big league experience but he’s got a ton of experience catching. At the Triple-A he’s had a phenomenal career in that manner. I can say confidently that I’d feel fine with Carlos Pérez behind the plate.”

This will be Shea Langeliers’ first season taking over as the starting guy behind the plate after he backed up Sean Murphy last year. The 25-year-old will need to take breathers throughout the season, so the backup should be getting a couple of starts a week at least.

Oakland is paying Piña $4.5 million this season after acquiring him from the Atlanta Braves in the three-team Sean Murphy deal, which makes him the fourth-highest active paid player on the team. Given that salary, Piña seems locked into the backup spot if he’s healthy, though the wrist issue is concerning considering he got surgery on it last year and played in just five games. (Side note: The A’s are still paying Trevor Rosenthal $5 million this season on the third year of his deferred $11 million contract signed in 2021, though he never threw a pitch for Oakland.)

Starting the season in Triple-A makes sense for Soderstrom, who is still just 21 with 191 professional games of experience under his belt, including a nine-game cameo with Las Vegas at the end of last year. His bat is probably big-league ready, but he needs more reps behind the plate to get called up. There’s no rush to promote him given the team is still likely to be rebuilding and out of playoff contention this season.

If Pérez makes the opening day roster, left-handed hitting catcher Kyle McCann will likely start the season in Triple-A Las Vegas. Soderstrom also figures to play first base and designated hitter this season, so there should be plenty of at-bats for McCann with the Aviators.