MINNEAPOLIS -- When Salvador Perez is asked which catchers he looked up to as a kid, he doesn't hesitate before answering, and he only needs to name one.
"Molina, Yadier Molina," Perez says. "I watched a lot of video. I wanted to be like him because he's the best in the league. I just try to be like him."
Perez's starting position in this year's All-Star Game would indicate that he's had some success in that endeavor. Though Perez has flown under the national radar -- largely because he plays in the small market of Kansas City -- his teammates say he's well on his way to becoming the next Molina and a cornerstone of the Royals' franchise.
"I said it last year. I said he was the next Yadier Molina," said teammate Alex Gordon. "When you play Yadier, you know where he is at all times, and I think that's how Salvy is. You notice when teams come in, nobody wants to steal a base because he's back there."
Perez, 24, was selected to the All-Star Game by his peers on the Player Ballot, and he was originally scheduled to start opposite his idol, until Molina tore a ligament in his right thumb. While comparisons between the two are apt in some ways, Perez is actually ahead of Molina with two All-Star selections in his first four years. Molina didn't make the squad until his sixth season.
In fact, Perez is way ahead of where the Cardinals' backstop was offensively when he broke into the league. In three and a half seasons, Perez has batted .297/.330/.448, including a .283/.329/.437 line this season. In Molina's first four years, he batted .248/.304/.349.
And though Molina has long been known for his prowess behind the plate, Perez hasn't been slacking there: he's thrown out 15 baserunners this year, a caught stealing rate of 35 percent.
"If you ever watch him play, just how he affects the game every day, it's unbelievable," Gordon said. "I hope a lot of guys try to steal on him tomorrow and we'll get to see how good he is back there."
Perhaps the best indication of what Perez means to the Royals is this: When asked which dimension of Perez's game jumps out the most, closer Greg Holland replied, "All of them."
"He's only what, 24? To be able to call a game like a veteran, it's unbelievable," Holland said. "I take it for granted sometimes. You don't realize, this guy's still early in his career and he's got a lot to do. The way he catches, the way he defends with guys on base, throwing guys out, picking guys off, it's unbelievable."
And Perez's personality might mean even more than his physical skills to his teammates.
"He has a real passion to win the game. He loves the game," Holland said. "You see him out there fist pumping and screaming and yelling, it kind of brings that little kid out in you. I think that's what drives him. Just the love of the game drives him to be better each and every day. He doesn't take a pitch off. For me, coming in the ninth inning in close games, I can't really afford for my catcher to take a pitch off. It's a lot of fun, but I think just that passion is the biggest attribute, aside from the natural ability he has."
Sound familiar? Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter said leadership is what makes Molina truly indispensable to his team.
"One of the things about him is, as big of a superstar as he is, as great of a player as he is, he's an even better person, a better teammate," Carpenter said of Molina. "He takes time with guys, getting to know them, and helps teaching young guys the things that he knows. That's what makes him great."
Despite his youth, Perez said he's tried to take on a greater leadership role for a second-place Royals team that hopes to make a playoff surge in the second half.
"I try to be a leader," Perez said. "I'm the catcher, and I have to be a leader for the pitcher, talking. I want to be the leader on this team one day."
Caitlin Swieca is an associate producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.