GLENDALE, Ariz. — Juan Perez grew up in the Bronx, spent most of his early 20s moving between minor league cities and winter league stops and lived in a San Francisco hotel for much of the 2013 season. He never needed a driver's license during all those years, but this spring, feeling comfortable in big league camp, Perez decided to finally take the test.
Like the majority of people who walk into the DMV, Perez was immediately hit with a rude surprise. In this case, his instructor was a big Los Angeles Dodgers fan.
"He told me right away: 'I already failed you,'" Perez recalled, smiling.
Perez did get to take the test, and he passed, adding another small victory to what has been a very strong spring. In camp for the fourth time, Perez, 27, is no longer the little-known player just trying to open eyes. He broke through in 2013, making 34 big league appearances and showing off spectacular defensive skills.
The strong glove, ability to play all three outfield spots, speed and improving bat allowed Perez to break free from the organization's pack of Triple-A outfielders. At the moment, he's in a tight battle with veteran Tyler Colvin for what would be the fifth roster spot in the outfield.
Perez made a big statement in Saturday's 8-5 win against the Chicago White Sox, hitting a two-strike three-run homer. He's hitting .308 this spring with seven walks and two homers, and is tied with Brandon Hicks for the team lead in doubles with seven.
"He's got some power," manager Bruce Bochy said. "The ball jumps off his bat."
Perez hit just .238 in his first big league cameo in June and July last season. When he returned as a September call-up, Perez felt increased confidence, and he hit .277 with a homer and four doubles in 47 at-bats. He followed that with a strong winter league performance in the Dominican Republic, batting .285 with 10 doubles and 13 stolen bases for Aguilas Cibaenas, the team he grew up rooting for.
The successes have allowed him to continue to blossom this spring.
"I feel much more comfortable now," he said. "I feel like I did my job last year, especially at the end, and that helped with confidence."
Bochy said the position battles are still too close to call. Perez would seem to be the better fit given his ability to spell Michael Morse in left field and contribute as a pinch-runner, but Colvin could give the Giants much needed left-handed power off the bench.