Delvin Perez is one of three 17-year-old players on the GCLCardinals, along with Dylan Carlson and Alvaro Seijas, who could be a big part of the Cardinals’ future. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)
By Rob Rains
The three 17-year-olds arrived in Florida earlier this summer, coming from different parts of the world, brought to the same place because of baseball.
Together they could well represent a big part of the long-term future of the Cardinals.
Delvin Perez, Dylan Carlson and Alvaro Seijas have little in common except their age and ability as baseball players. Perez is from Puerto Rico, Carlson from northern California and Seijas from Venezuela. All are playing for the Cardinals’ lowest-level minor league team in the United States, the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, in Jupiter, Fla.
Perez and Carlson came to the organization through this year’s draft. Perez, the shortstop, was not a player Cardinals scouts thought would still be available when they made their first selection, the 23rd overall pick, but he dropped when a positive test for PEDs became known in the days prior to the draft.
Carlson, an outfielder, was a player the Cardinals identified early this spring as somebody they hoped would get to them and they selected him 10 picks after Perez, 33rd overall.
Seijas is a right-handed pitcher who was the Cardinals’ top international free agent signing in 2015, when he was 16. He started four games for the Dominican Summer League team in June before his promotion to the GCL, a league traditionally stocked with players just out of high school, small colleges or from Latin America.
This is Steve Turco’s eighth season managing in the league and 25th as a manager, coach or scout in the Cardinals organization, so when he speaks about a player’s talent and ability, it is coming from experience. Turco can’t stop raving about all three of these players and their potential.
Many people, not Turco, have compared Perez to the current shortstop of the Houston Astros, Carlos Correa, who also is from Puerto Rico and was the American League Rookie of the Year last year. Correa began his pro career in the GCL at the age of 17 after being the top overall pick in the 2012 draft – and hit .232.
“I am not trying to compare them but a lot of people have,” Turco said. “In most cases when a 17-year-old comes to this level, even though it is the rookie level, they don’t perform as he (Perez) has. He’s done everything at the plate you can imagine.”
After his first 26 professional games, through Wednesday, Perez had a .330 average, including six doubles and three triples in 106 at-bats. He also led the team with nine stolen bases.
“The kid has all kinds of athleticism,” Turco said. “He’s got all kinds of energy. Is he a finished product? Not right now. But he’s a plus runner, he’s able to steal bases and his instincts are good but things have to be harnessed. But you see the aggressiveness and you just love it.
“I like where he is right now in the early steps with us and look forward to some big things from him. … When he’s up there (at bat) and we need something I believe he’s going to come through for us. He’s not overmatched by anyone. Can he be fooled by a breaking pitch or changeup? Yeah he can, but when he has two strikes he has an approach and he’s tough to get off his mark. He stays on the ball really well and he will battle you. He loves the challenge and he loves the spotlight.”
At least two people have not surprised by Perez’s success. Mike DiBiase is the Cardinals’ area scout in south Florida, and his territory includes Puerto Rico. He first saw Perez play as a 16-year-old, competing against older players, and came away well aware of Perez’s potential.
“As a rising junior, he stood out even a year before he was eligible to be drafted as one of the most talented players down there,” DiBiase said. “He’s a really, really talented kid. He’s got all the tools.
“The first year is always a tough adjustment, coming over from another country and another culture. It’s a challenge, and it’s impressive that he has gone out and played as well as he has.”
The Cardinals already had a history with Perez before realizing they would have a shot at drafting him. As a youth, Perez played on teams coached by Juan (Quique) Ramos, their part-time area scout in Puerto Rico.
“Quique has known Delvin and his family for a long time,” DiBiase said.
Carlson had only a few days to appreciate Perez’s ability before they became teammates this summer – that was when they landed on the same team for last summer’s Under Armour All-American game at Wrigley Field.
“We were randomly assigned to the same team,” Carlson said. “It was crazy how it worked out.”
The night of the draft, when Carlson realized he and Perez would be teammates again, he was excited.
“He’s a special player with special talent,” Carlson said. “He’s a lot of fun to be around. It’s been fun playing with him.”
Even though Perez has made 12 errors, Turco sees Perez as a player who can stay at shortstop and get better with more experience and as he becomes more comfortable playing on teams with better talent.
“I think he’s been a big fish in a little pond for a long time and just about everything he’s done has worked well for him,” Turco said. “He has to figure out what he does and doesn’t do, and he’s a pretty sharp kid in that regard.
“On defense he has some work to do, but he’s got all the tools to be a solid defensive shortstop. He’s got enough arm strength, great hands and his feet are good. He just needs to put it all together. He has not been as consistent and there are some things he needs to work on but I don’t see any reason why with his tool set it’s not going to happen for him.
“He’s 17. He’s a baby. My expectations for him at this point are not as high as his are for himself. I expect these growing pains. I’m shocked he’s done as well as he has offensively but with his approach you can understand it.”
One of the concerns about drafting Perez was if there would be any more problems related to the positive PED test. To this point the answer is no. Perez has been tested twice, Turco said.
“We’ve had no trouble with him off the field,” Turco said. “Everything’s been fine.”
For a team at this level to have one prospect such as Perez is a major accomplishment, but when Turco also watches Carlson and Seijas on the field, he realizes just how special this team could turn out to be in a few years.
Carlson, a month older than Perez, won’t turn 18 until Oct. 23. Seijas is the oldest of the three and will celebrate his 18th birthday on Oct. 10.
Carlson has the most traditional baseball background of the three, having played high school baseball for his father in Elk Grove, Calif. He is a switch-hitter who played mostly first base in high school but is now being developed as a centerfielder.
“He’s one of those guys that has all the intangible things you really want,” Turco said. “He’s going to make himself as good a player as he can possibly be and that’s likely going to be very good because he’s got all the tools to go along with it.”
Turco sees Carlson developing into a player who can hit 20 home runs a season, and he has been pleased with how quickly Carlson has improved defensively in the outfield.
Carlson started out slower than Perez offensively, which was not unexpected.
“When high schools get here for the first time, even with Correa, it takes a little adjustment period for them to figure out how to handle pro ball and the speed of the game,” Turco said. “He (Carlson) seems to be doing that right now. He’s taking much better at-bats, and the ball is jumping off his bat.”
After hitting under .200 in his first few weeks as a professional, Carlson has raised his average to .213 after 19 games. He hit his first professional homer on Monday and had two more hits on Wednesday.
“I’m learning every day,” Carlson said. “I’m trying to better myself and am focusing on doing the things the coaches have been telling me and it’s starting to pay off.”
Turco sees some comparisons between Carlson and the high school third baseman selected in the second round of last year’s draft, Bryce Denton, who played in the GCL and moved up to Johnson City this year.
“I think Bryce is going to have a nice career and play in the big leagues, and he hit under .200 for the whole year,” Turco said. “Carlson is like him in that when you come to the ballpark and watch them play, you would have no idea if he was hitting .200 or .300; that’s the way they play the game. That’s the sign of a consummate professional who goes about his business in the right way.
“Dylan fits the mold of what you would expect a Cardinal player to look like. Delvin has a little more exuberance and plays with a little more emotion and sometimes that’s good, but sometimes it can get the best of you too.”
Turco also has been impressed by the third 17-year-old on the team, Seijas, who he said pitches like somebody older than that, while he also is making the adjustment to living in a foreign country.
“He’s got the ability to throw all three of his pitches for strikes with a plus fastball, a plus curve and he is showing signs of a plus changeup,” Turco said. “There’s a whole lot to like about him.”
Turco has been pleased by how Seijas is showing signs of improved maturity on the mound as well.
“He used to get a little upset at times,” the manager said. “In one of his recent games, he worked four perfect innings, but in the fifth there was a non-play made behind him and before you know it we’d given up five runs. I was looking for him to show some signs of that immaturity, but he was more unflappable than immature. He threw one more inning and I was more interested to see how he responded and he breezed through a 1-2-3 inning.”
In his first five starts for the GCL Cardinals, Seijas is 2-1 with a 3.76 ERA. He has 15 strikeouts and has walked nine in 26 1/3 innings.
“He’s going to be a pretty bright asset to the Cardinals,” Turco said.
Perez, Carlson and Seijas could soon be joined – perhaps in a year or two – by another player, now 17, who also could be a future star with the Cardinals. One of the team’s top international signings this year was outfielder Jonatan Machado, a defector from Cuba who has started his pro career in the Dominican summer league.
How aggressive the Cardinals will be in promoting these players through the farm system, particularly Perez, could be determined by how others are playing at the higher levels.
The Cardinals, in contrast to just a few years ago, appear well stocked at shortstop. Edmundo Sosa was just promoted from Peoria to Palm Beach, and Allen Cordoba, who won the batting title and was the MVP in the GCL last summer, is playing well at Johnson City. Both Sosa and Cordoba are 20 years old.
Two years ago, the Cardinals tried to push outfielder Magneuris Sierra – also the GCL MVP and batting champ – from that rookie league to Peoria and he struggled and had to be sent back to Johnson City. Sierra has played much better this summer in his second stint in Peoria.
“It’s an exciting group we have there,” DiBiase said. “There are some other guys there as well.”
Added Carlson, “It is something that could be pretty special down the road.”
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