Versatility may be Perez's ticket to Majors

Versatility may be Perez's ticket to Majors

SAN DIEGO -- The Tigers have had a super-utility player on their roster for the bulk of the last six years, thanks to Don Kelly. They could be setting up Hernan Perez to be the next.

It might be Perez's best shot to not only stick in the big leagues, but to stay in the organization.

Perez has spent the past month with Zulia in the Venezuelan Winter League, but he hasn't played since Nov. 29 after injuring his right knee in a collision. He's expected to return to action this week, but he told Carlos Duarte of the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal that the Tigers want him playing some games in the outfield.

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed that request on Monday, saying that they want Perez to enhance his versatility and help his cause.

"He's out of [Minor League] options, and we like Hernan a lot," Dombrowski said, "so we thought it would be [good]. We know he can play second base, shortstop and third base, but we asked if he could take some fly balls to see how he does out there."

Perez was already working out in the outfield before the injury, according to assistant GM Al Avila, though he has not started a game there yet, dividing his time between second and first base. He split most of his regular season at Triple-A Toledo between second base and shortstop.

"We figured we would try to increase his flexibility, versatility, because we like Hernan," Dombrowski said. "With how the club fits, maybe we'll want him to play some outfield."

The Tigers counted on Kelly as a backup outfielder for years while also using him at first, second and third base. He is a free agent after being dropped from the roster at season's end, though both sides are open to a reunion.

If Kelly returns, it could set up a positional battle with Perez and others. Whoever doesn't win the job would have to be designated for assignment and clear waivers before being assigned to Triple-A Toledo.

Kelly, who turns 35 on Feb. 15, is 11 years older than Perez. Despite the age difference, Kelly has the advantage of being a left-handed hitter, a trait the Tigers have in short supply on their bench. Perez, a candidate last spring to fill the shortstop void, is a right-handed hitter.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.