The Cardinals spent their first-round pick on a promising shortstop last year. Delvin Perez might not play in the majors next year, but he is still a reason to get excited.

Delvin Perez is famous for two reasons. The first is that he failed a drug test prior to the amateur draft last year. The other is that the Cardinals spent their first-round draft pick on him anyway. Perez was a consensus top-10 pick prior to the news about his drug test. The Cardinals got one of the draft’s top prospects with the 23rd pick, and begin the grooming process in earnest this season.

Perez did play 43 games of rookie ball last year, which gives us very little information about him. He is 18 years old, so we can’t look at college numbers. And yet, he is still generating a lot of buzz.

MLB.com ranked Perez as both the Cardinals’ 4th best prospect, and the number 91 prospect in all of baseball. That’s pretty good for an 18 year-old with little track record in affiliated ball.

What Scouts are Saying

I will get to the numbers, but in such a small sample size, using what scouts say is the better way to go. Right now, everyone seems pretty much sold on the idea that Perez will stick at shortstop. MLB.com graded Perez as a 60 for both his arm and his glove on the 20-80 scouting scale, and a Google search for what scouts say about his defense will impress you.

As one scout told MLB.com’s Alyson Footer, “[Perez’s] defense is obviously there. It’ll take time to see how much he hits. It’s the hardest thing to project, because it’s the hardest thing to do. But he’s where he needs to be with his speed and defense.”

Although Perez won’t be in the majors for another 4-5 years, he can already do something that few people can: play the hardest position on the diamond. Teams place a premium on defense at shortstop, and the early reviews of Perez suggest that he won’t disappoint in the field. I suppose some people have legitimate concerns about his bat, but that’s not the biggest worry for shortstops.

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Many players drafted as shortstops have to spend a lot of time learning a new position. Few can actually stick at the position, so they need to devote a large amount of time to figuring out a new spot. As you can guess, that often leads to little progress at the plate.

Think about Carson Kelly, who is currently the top catching prospect in the majors. Kelly’s bat suffered in the minors because he took so much time learning how to catch. Kelly had his best offensive season in 2016, now that he is more comfortable behind the plate. He now has more energy to spend on hitting, instead of just catching.

The same thing happens to many shortstops, except that they don’t turn it around on the offensive end. Few players start with the hit tools that Kelly has, so the time lost due to learning a new position is a major loss.

Players only have so many years of development before they peak around the age of 25. Perez’s weakness may be hitting, but at least he can spend more time on it that most prospects get to.

Even if Perez isn’t able to do much at the plate, he still brings a lot of value. Andrelton Simmons’ bat is subpar, at best, but he is still a valuable player. Additionally, Perez has a lot of speed, and the Cardinals have a lot of time to turn him into a smart baserunner.

On the Bases

In general, I think we tend to overrate speed a little bit. Speed certainly helps, but baserunning is a bit more about intelligence. Because Perez is just 18 years-old, the Cardinals have enough time to turn him into a great baserunner. This doesn’t happen overnight, but four years in the minors? That can be enough time, if Perez really wants to work on it.

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Perez is off to a good start with this, as he stole 12/13 bases last year in rookie ball. On the other hand, Cardinals fans should be concerned that he only scored 19 runs. Perez had 180 plate appearances and got on base 35 percent of the time last year.

In a small sample size, we can’t read too much into it, but it isn’t good. Perez would be on pace for under 80 runs in a full season at that rate. I have no evidence to back this up, but I am guessing that base running played a role. We will get to see Perez for a full season next year, so check back in on this towards the end of the year, but base running is a key to the young shortstop’s development.

The Small Sample

In general, Perez’s small sample was encouraging. Perez posted a good strikeout rate (15.7 percent) while getting on base at a solid clip. His walk rate wasn’t great (6.7 percent), but it wasn’t abysmal either. We can’t really use traditional stats because there is no way that they would stabilize over 180 plate appearances, but some of the peripherals can help.

The walk and strikeout rate don’t suggest great things, but they don’t show someone who is lost at the plate, either. Remember, nobody expected Perez to do very well at the plate just yet. There is a development process awaiting Perez, but perhaps the strikeout rate is an indication that Perez is slightly ahead of where we thought he was.

Finally, Perez is not a power hitter, at least not yet. Players often struggle to hit for power in the minors, so his .098 isolated slugging is not a bad mark.

Ultimately, we can’t read too much into these numbers. They are some small positive signs, but it isn’t much. A full year of working with the coaching staff should do Perez a lot of good. That development is causing a lot of excitement amongst the Cardinals and their fans. Perez is already an advanced fielder, and he has the tools to improve in other areas.

Now he just needs to put it all together. It’s going to be fun watching the young shortstop develop. I am also excited to read Jack Stephens’ future articles about him right here on Cardsblog.

I can’t tell you exactly what to expect from Perez this year. All I know is what to look for. Those following the minors should be keeping tabs on how often he is scoring, and how often he is walking. Those are two key pieces in the development of Delvin Perez, and if he gets those down, then he will be well on his way to becoming an everyday shortstop.

Photo Credit: Bill Greenblatt/UPI