Its kind of remarkable to consider that Martin Perez is just 24 years old. We've been talking about him seemingly forever. He was signed by the Rangers in 2007 -- the year of the Mark Teixeira trade. He's been in the Rangers' organization as long as Elvis Andrus has been, and it seems like we've been talking about him since virtually the time he was signed.
Perez has the honor, or notoriety, of making the Baseball America top 100 list five times, beginning prior to the 2009 season, when a 3.65 ERA in the Northwest League as a 17 year old had him slotted as the #86 prospect in baseball. Perez was #17 on the BA list heading into the 2010 season, and was evoking comparisons to Johan Santana.
Of course, the reason I say "notoriety" up there is that, generally speaking, most prospects don't spend that long on a top 100 list. If they are that good, they usually are in the majors before they spend five years on a top 100 prospect list...especially if they are a top 20 prospect after their age 18 season. And that's why Perez was viewed by some as a disappointment...his stock dropped slowly beginning in 2010, when he pitched at AA and put up an ERA of almost 6, until he had fallen all the was to #81 on the BA list heading into the 2013 season. I was predicting Justin Grimm, not Martin Perez, would be the internal option the Rangers would look to in 2013 as a starting pitcher.
But 2013 was a success story for Perez, as he dominated in Round Rock, and then was one of the team's more solid starters down the stretch in that strange, bizarre 2013 campaign. This isn't even Perez's first chance to pitch under playoff pressure...he was the guy who pitched in Game 163 for the Rangers against David Price and the Rays in 2013.
I know we've tried to block much of that game out of our minds, and if you just look at Perez's line from that game, its not that impressive. But I remember, coming into that game, thinking that, other than Yu Darvish, I had more confidence in Perez than any other starter on the staff. The 22 year old lefty had gotten better as the season had gone on, putting up a 3.05 ERA in his final 11 starts heading into Game 163, going at least 6 innings in 9 of those 11 starts.
And after four batters in Game 163, Perez was making me look like a fool. Desmond Jennings led off the game with a single, but was thrown out trying to advance to second. Wil Myers walked, and then Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria had back-to-back singles, loading the bases. Perez, a guy who is known for having trouble keeping his emotions in check when things are going wrong, appeared on the verge of losing the game for Texas before they ever even got an at bat.
But Martin Perez settled down. He only gave up one walk and one hit after that until he was lifted from the game. Delmon Young brought a run home with a sac fly, Sean Rodriguez struck out, and he escaped from the inning. Sadly, the one walk and one hit both occurred in the third, and the hit was an Evan Longoria home run with Desmond Jennings on base (via that walk), giving the Rays 3 runs on their ledger.
Perez ended up getting pulled with one out in the sixth, after striking out Ben Zobrist to end the inning, and his final line was 5.1 IP, 4 hits, 2 walks, 3 runs, 5 Ks in 74 pitches. He got dinged with the loss. But for a 22 year old facing David Price in a win-or-go-home game, retiring 15 of 17 batters after the bad start isn't bad.
Perez looked like he was making The Leap early last year, throwing back to back shutouts in April as part of a three game, 26 inning scoreless stretch before succumbing to elbow soreness and Tommy John surgery, and since his return this season, he's shown the inconsistency that is the hallmark of a pitcher making his way back from missing a year of action. His disastrous 1 IP, 8 run start his third game back blew up his season numbers.
But since that start, Martin Perez has put up a 3.38 ERA in 11 starts, with 43 Ks, 18 walks and just 3 home runs allowed in 66.2 IP. For the year, he was a 3.40 FIP and a 3.99 xFIP, driven by a 59.9% ground ball rate.
I'm expecting big things from Perez next year. He's a lefty who gets ground balls while touching 94 mph with his fastball, has a terrific changeup, and has two different breaking balls he can throw for strikes. I think he's poised to establish himself as a legit #2 starter in this league.
And tonight, Perez is going to have the opportunity to show a national audience what he can do.
I'm not going to predict great things for today. Anything can happen in one game, the Blue Jays are a terrific hitting team, and Perez hasn't found the consistent he needs with his command to be that legit #2 starter. He could end up getting pulled in favor of Colby Lewis in the third inning, and it wouldn't surprise me.
But I feel very good about Perez going tonight. And I'm hopeful this October will be something we look back at and point to as Perez's staking a claim as one of the really good pitchers in major league baseball.