Perez navigating uneven road to the pros

Report of a failed drug test adds uncertainly to phenom's Draft status

Perez navigating uneven road to the pros

There's a curvy path through a small town on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico that leads to an old building so well-known the road is named after it.

The street is called Calle La Gallera, a reference to a onetime shady family-owned business that's been reborn as a two-story church and apartment.

"Calle" is street in English. "La Gallera," in this case, means a cockfighting ring.

Delvin Perez -- a 6-foot-3, 165-pound shortstop, who some believe has the best set of tools in this year's MLB Draft -- lives here on the second floor with his parents and siblings above the makeshift church below. The plan is to move out of their famous family building and leave all of its history behind once the infielder is drafted.

"I want to get to the big leagues and be an All-Star and be in the Hall of Fame one day," Perez, 17, said in Spanish. "I want to be like [Houston Astros shortstop] Carlos Correa. He's my favorite player. He knows what he wants and he loves baseball. I do, too."

Some scouts think Perez -- who is ranked as the No. 9 prospect in the Draft by MLB Pipeline -- might have the tools of Correa, a fellow Puerto Rican who was the first overall selection in the 2012 Draft. But the consensus is that Perez is not as polished as Correa was at the same age, and a recent report of a failed drug test prior to the Draft will only serve to cloud his bright future.

Like most teenagers, Perez has some growing up to do.

"The kid's upside is ridiculous," said one anonymous American League scout. "He's a little immature and I think he's going to assume a leadership role in his house once he signs, so that's something you pay attention to, but he's a five-tool player and has all of the components to be an impact player. He checks every box with a plus, and that bat is coming, too."

Perez grew up in the tough Medianía Baja neighborhood in Loíza with older brothers Radnell Onill Perez, 26, Delvin Jr., 25, a former Phillies Minor Leaguer, along with his parents Delvin Sr. and Beatrice. The top prospect spent his childhood five minutes away from the beach and a short walk away from Estadio Miguel Fuentes Pinet, the stadium where he learned the game.

The teenager starred for two years at the International Baseball Academy and High School in Ceiba, Puerto Rico. He participated in major showcases in the United States and also played with travel ball with a club called FTB Puerto Rico. Perez will graduate from high school a few days after the Draft.

"This kid does not like to lose. That's just not an option for him," said Luis Castro, a Phillies scout who also serves as the director at IBAHS. "He's a warrior out there, but he also likes to be happy and have fun. He likes to make people laugh. Off the field, he's a normal teenager."

Perez's family roots can be traced back to the family-owned Gallera La Palmeras, the cockfighting ring where gambling, alcohol and violence reigned until it was transformed into an evangelical church named Casa del Alfarero by Delvin Sr. in 2005. The bottom floor of the circular building is equipped with pews and chairs. The Perez family lives on the second floor.

"This was my grandfather's and then my father's and then mine, but God started working with me to change my life," Delvin Perez Sr. said in Spanish. "We didn't change it. God changed it. He called on me. This was God's hand. And God is helping my son, and my boy knows that."

The Perez family will follow the shortstop to the United States once he signs, Delvin Sr. said. Florida could be one destination, but he's not sure where they will end up.

This much is certain: Calle La Gallera runs two ways. The Perezes believe the road to the big leagues starts with the street in their rearview mirror.

"My advice to Delvin is to be the same person always. Don't get a big head with fame or the money or the success that comes with baseball," Correa said. "Stay positive and try to help others. Have an impact on others and make Puerto Rico proud."

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.