As we discussed earlier this week, in the aftermath of the community prospect rankings wrapping up, I figured I'd do write-ups for each Ranger prospect who finished in the top 25, in the order that they were selected.
Once again I will offer this caveat...I have no first-hand information about these guys, and for the hard-core prospect-philes out there, you probably already know everything that I'll be writing about these players.
Nevertheless, I thought it would be useful to provide capsule scouting reports for each player, and a way to fill some space while we wait for the real news to start.
After the jump, I start off by taking a look at the #2 player in the LSB Community Prospect Rankings, Martin Perez.
Doesn't it seem like we've been hearing about Martin Perez forever? Perez was the prize of the July 2 signing period in 2007, getting a $580,000 signing bonus back when the Rangers were first starting to spend significant dollars in Latin America. A small lefty -- Perez is listed at 6'0", 187 lbs. -- Perez mad his state-side debut in 2008 when, as a 17 year old, he pitched in the Northwest League, facing primarily 21 year olds who had just been drafted after three or four years of college ball. Despite the age difference, Perez acquitted himself very well, posting a 3.65 ERA in 61.2 innings for Spokane.
The 2008 Spokane team had quite an impressive collection of talent -- when BA did their end of season Northwest League rankings, Neil Ramirez was at #4, Wilfredo Boscan was #6, Tim Murphy was #8, and Matt West (then playing third base) checked in at #16, while Carlos Pimentel and Justin Miller also had a significant amount of appearances. Perez, however, was viewed as the class of the group, being named the #2 prospect in the Northwest League (behind Cubs third base prospect Josh Vitters), and getting named the #86 prospect in baseball in the year-end rankings.
2009 was a breakout year for Perez. Pitching in the low-A Sally League, Perez struck out 10.1 batters per 9 in 93.2 innings, registering a 2.31 ERA and earning a late-season promotion to AA Frisco. Perez struggled in 5 starts with the RoughRiders, posting a 5+ ERA, but as an 18 year old, just getting to AA and not drowning was an accomplishment.
Perez entered the 2010 season ranked #17 in the Baseball America rankings, between Starlin Castro and Jeremy Hellickson -- quite impressive company. There was talk that Perez would be in Texas before the season was over, and could be competing for a rotation spot in 2011. And in BA's South Atlantic League top 20 prospect writeups -- which featured Perez as the #1 prospect in the league -- the comparison was made that, for better or worse, has followed Perez around ever since:
Fair or not, there seemed to be only one apt comparison for the SAL's youngest pitcher: Johan Santana. Everything from Perez's frame to his delivery mimic Santana. What's more, both are Venezuelan lefthanders who sit at 92-94 mph and touch 96 with their fastballs.
2010 was a bump in the road for Perez, however, and served to temper the overheated expectations that had grown around him. Spending the entire 2010 season in Frisco, Perez posted a 5.96 ERA in just 99.2 innings over 24 appearances (23 starts). He was striking out batters, but struggled with his control while allowing 1.1 homers per 9. The reports from those who saw him regularly was that he was maddeningly inconsistent with his command, the result of his inability to regularly repeat his delivery. When he was on, he looked like a guy who was major league ready, who justified the Santana comps. When he was off, well...when he was off, he looked like a guy with an ERA approaching 6 in AA.
Still, given his youth and his stuff, Perez was still considered a top-notch prospect, and he fell to only #24 in the pre-2011 BA rankings. 2011 was a solid bounce-back season for Perez, at least as far as AA went...he reduced his walk and home run rates, showed improved command, and in their Texas League rankings (where Perez came in at #4), he was praised for being more physically and mentally mature in 2011. Perez also started 10 games for Round Rock, but struggled in his first taste of AAA, allowing a ton of hits, seeing his K rate drop, and putting up a 6.43 ERA over 49 innings.
While Perez's performance in 2010 and 2011 hasn't necessarily matched the hype, it is important to remember how young Perez is. In his rough 2010 campaign, he turned 19 just days before the season started, and was the youngest player on a Texas League Opening Day roster by 6 months, and aside from Jordan Lyles, Perez was the youngest player on a Texas League Opening Day roster by 2 years. Other than Lyles, no player on any Opening Day 2010 AA roster was within a year of Perez's age.
Now, you can argue that the Rangers pushed him too fast, that he should have been in the high-A California League in 2010 rather than in AA. Fine. If the Rangers had started him with Bakersfield, Perez would have been the youngest player on an Opening Day roster in high-A.
And in 2011, when Perez was repeating AA, he was the second-youngest player in the Texas League on Opening Day, behind Mike Trout (four months younger than Perez), and the third-youngest player in AA, behind Trout and Jacob Turner (one month younger than Perez). When BA did their mid-season AA age rundowns, Perez had dropped all the way down to the fifth youngest player in AA, behind Trout, Turner, Bryce Harper, and Jonathan Villar. When Perez made his AAA debut on July 16, 2011, he was the youngest player in the PCL.
Keep in mind that Perez doesn't turn 21 until two days before the Rangers start the 2012 season. He's not close to being a finished product, but he's also at an age where he's not expected to be close to a finished product.
Perez's repertoire is what makes scouts so excited about him. Perez is a fastball/curveball/changeup pitcher, with scouts saying he could end up having all three offerings as plus pitches. His fastball is generally in the low-90s, his curve is described as a "hammer" that has potential as a true putaway pitch, and the potential he shows with his change -- described as his best pitch when he signed in 2007 -- is one of the reasons the Santana comparisons have been invoked.
So what's the rub with Perez? Well, if you are a velocity whore, you're not going to be blown away by Perez, who isn't going to bring the type of upper-90s heat that makes folks swoon. And Perez still has significant strides to make with his command...three plus pitches aren't going to do you a whole ton of good if you can't command them.
What does the future hold for Perez? Barring injury or regression, I expect we will see Perez in the majors in 2012. I think if injuries or ineffectiveness strike the rotation, we'll see Perez make some starts for the Rangers in 2012, and I imagine he'll get some innings out of the bullpen at some point.
I think Perez makes the Rangers' Opening Day rotation in 2013, and I think watching him in his first season or two will be reminiscent of watching Derek Holland this past season...games where he seems untouchable, where you think he's a legit #1 starter, mixed in with games where he's leaving everything over the plate and getting hammered.
What happens after that will be interesting to watch. Perez's floor is fairly high -- if he stays healthy, I'll be surprised if he doesn't end up starting at least 150 games in the majors -- but it wouldn't be surprising if he had a Jeremy Bonderman or Ricky Nolasco type run, where he struggles to match his results to his stuff (and to his peripherals) because of command issues. Even then, though, he'd be able to be a respectable #4 starter.
And the ceiling? Well, I don't know if there are still folks who seriously see him becoming the next Johan Santana, and the hype about him being a #1 starter seems to have died. But a legit #2 starter on a championship contender? That certainly seems possible.
Again, with Perez, the question seems to be how his command develops and improves. He has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter...the issue is whether the command will allow him to achieve that potential.