If you are new to the series, here’s what we’re doing…
For the second year in a row, I’m offering write-ups on each of the players who made the LSB Community Prospect Top 30 List. These are sort of capsule reports where I provide background and information, offer some thoughts, and the like. I’m not a scout, and what I’m primarily doing is pulling together information from other sources. Also, a lot of these guys, I did write-ups for last year, in which case, I’m cutting-and-pasting a lot of stuff, rather than trying to re-invent the wheel.
So, with that out of the way…the #3 prospect on the LSB Community Prospect List was Martin Perez.
This is how I started off last year’s Perez scouting report:
“Doesn't it seem like we've been hearing about Martin Perez forever?”
And now it seems like we’ve been hearing about him for forever plus a year.
Perez was the prize of the July 2 signing period in 2007, getting a $580,000 signing bonus back when theRangers were first starting to spend significant dollars in Latin America. A small lefty -- Perez is listed at 6'0", 187 lbs. -- Perez made 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.
Which brings us to last season, a year that could charitably be called a mixed bag. He dropped in the BA rankings for the second straight season, checking in at #31 before the 2012 season. Repeating Round Rock, Perez posted a respectable 4.25 ERA, but his peripherals were awful, as he struck out just 4.9 batters per nine while walking 4.0 per 9. When the Rangers had to dip into the minors for a starter early in the year, they passed over Perez, who was already on the 40 man roster, instead choosing to purchase the contract of Justin Grimm, a snub that seems to have impacted Perez. He eventually did make it to the majors in 2012, and ended up getting into 12 games, starting 6, and putting up a 5.45 ERA in 38 innings, striking out 25 and walking 15 batters while allowing three homers. Perez also had five wild pitches, a pair of
wild pitches hit batters, and a pair of balks, which are emblematic of the struggles Perez often seemed to have in maintaining his composure on the big stage.
Baseball America will probably have him in the #51-100 range in their top 100 list. MLB.com had Perez ranked #95. Scout.com had Perez ranked #55.
So, yeah, the numbers last year weren’t encouraging. But once again, let’s remember how old Perez is, relative to the leagues he’s pitched in the last few years.
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.
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.
And in 2012, there were two players younger than Perez in AAA to start the season – Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.
So Perez is still very young. He turns 22 at the start of the 2013 season. He’s the same age as the college juniors who were drafted in the 2012 draft. RHP Kevin Gausman, the #4 overall pick in the MLB draft, is three months older than Perez. Mark Appel is just two months younger than Perez.
That being said, he doesn’t have a whole lot of time before the age factor is no longer a factor.
Perez's repertoire is what makes scouts so excited about him. Perez is a fastball/curveball/changeup pitcher who has also started mixing in a slider. His fastball is generally in the low-90s, though it can get up to 96, 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. On the other hand, Perez still has major issues with the consistency of his command, and he has had a tendency to react poorly to adversity and let problems snowball on him.
Perez is heading into 2013 battling for the fifth starter job, along with Robbie Ross and Justin Grimm, and at this point, I’d say he’s the favorite. Still, the job is very much up for grabs, and may even be a temp assignment with Colby Lewis due back in late May or early June. I expect to see Perez spend the 2013 like he did 2012, splitting time between the majors and AAA, and splitting his major league time between the rotation and the bullpen.
What sort of ceiling does Perez have? Last year, I wrote that a legit #2 starter on a championship contender seemed possible for Perez. His failure to take a step forward in 2012 makes that sort of prospect unlikely, and now, I’m starting to wonder if he isn’t destined to be another Derek Holland…a guy who tantalizes with his stuff, looks unhittable at times, but who can’t be consistently good enough to be anything more than a mid-rotation starter.