Darrell Porter was drafted in the 1st Round of the 1970 Amateur Draft (4th overall) by the Milwaukee Brewers. Possibly the most prized possession of a Brewers youth movement at the time, he was often compared to another Oklahoman, Johnny Bench. Double-Barrel Darrell made his debut with the Brewers as a September call-up in 1971. He was 19 years old. Although some considered the Brew Crew to be rushing him at the time, the team gave him the opportunity to win the starting catching job to start the following season.
After a sub-par Spring Training in which Porter was unable to supplant Ellie Rodriguez as the everyday backstop, the Brewers used Porter primarily as their DH vs right-handed pitching. After only 63 PA, Porter was sporting a .125 BA. The Brewers sent their 20-year old top prospect back down to AAA, where he undoubtedly should have been in the first place.
The 1973 season saw Porter split time with Rodriguez at catcher, while also logging time at DH. By mid-August, he had taken over the everyday catching duties. He was still only 21 years old. Here is his offensive stat line for 1973:
416 PA 16 HR 67 RBI .254/.363/.457 .820 OPS 133 OPS+ 3.5 WAR
He remained with Milwaukee from 1974-76. In 1976, in 449 PA, Porter batted .208, with 5 HR, and an OPS of .586. Following that season, he was traded to Kansas City, where he would have the best years of his career (1977-1980). For the purpose of comparing him to Sal Perez (which we will get to shortly), let's focus on the years 1974-78, the five years after his 21-year old season. Here are his average numbers for those seasons, in which he was ages 22-26:
508 PA 14 HR 57 RBI .244/.341/..396 .737 OPS 107 OPS+ 2.8 WAR
In an era of horrible offensive catchers, Darrell made the AL All-Star team twice during these years. Not earth-shattering numbers, considering what people thought of him as a 18-21 year old. Not horrible, but not Johnny Bench.
Salvador Perez, as we all know, was brought up for the last 2 months of this past season, as a 21-year old catching prospect. While considerably less heralded than Porter offensively, Perez had an incredible start to his career, albeit with about 1/3 of the Plate Appearances Porter had as a 21-year old. Here are Sal's 2011 major-league numbers:
158 PA 3 HR 21 RBI .331/.361/.473 .834 OPS 128 OPS+ 1.1 WAR
Obviously, we are all hopeful that, as Salvador Perez enters his first season as the Royals' everyday catcher, that he continues at the pace he established in 2011. However, we can learn from the early career of Darrell Porter. Given the extremely high expectations, offensively and defensively, Porter was not without success his first 6 years. But it is likely that he was rushed to the major leagues. It is also likely that, when he began to struggle, he pressed, making the struggles even worse. It was not until 1979, his seventh year as a full-time player, that he had a breakout year, looking like the player everyone thought he would be. Not surprisingly, he was 27. Here are his 1979 numbers:
679 PA 20 HR 112 RBI .291/.421/.484 .905 OPS 142 OPS+ 8.4 WAR
He also had 101 Runs scored and 121 BB (!), while making his 3rd All-Star appearance.
There are many who are of the opinion that Sal Perez was rushed to the big leagues last season, and that there have been unreasonable expectations placed upon him, given his age, lack of experience, and moderate minor-league numbers.
As we move forward, the question will be: What should we expect from Perez for the next 5 years? And maybe more importantly- Will he even still be with the Royals when his "breakout" season occurs?