Prospect of the Day: Martin Perez, LHP, Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers promoted rookie Martin Perez to the major leagues last week. He made his first major league start against the Oakland Athletics on Saturday, going 5.1 innings, giving up six hits, a walk, and two runs, fanning five. The young southpaw is one of the better pitching prospects in baseball, although he isn't an easy one to analyze.
Perez was signed by the Rangers in 2007 from Venezuela, earning a bonus of $580,000. His pro debut was successful, with a 3.65 ERA and a 53/28 K/BB in 62 innings for Spokane in the Northwest League in 2008 at age 17. He remained very effective for Low-A Hickory in 2009, posting a 2.31 ERA in 94 innings with a 105/33 K/BB ratio. However, the Rangers promoted him to Double-A late in the year, and not unexpectedly he had some problems, posting a 5.57 ERA in five starts.
Returning to Double-A Frisco in 2010 at the tender age of 19, he struggled, posting a 5.96 ERA with a 105/50 K/BB and 117 hits allowed in 100 innings. His performance and his scouting reports were very inconsistent; he would look awesome in one start and hopeless in the next. He also missed time with a back injury. Returning to Frisco to begin 2011, he was much more effective, posting a 3.16 ERA in 88 innings with an 83/36 K/BB. However, he got crushed again after being promoted to Triple-A, posting an ugly 6.43 ERA in 10 starts for Round Rock, with a 37/20 K/BB and a disturbing 72 hits in 49 innings.
Perez made 15 starts for Round Rock this spring, going 5-5, 4.59 with a 49/38 K/BB in 84 innings with 78 hits allowed. The K/IP ratio is unimpressive and he had his share of bad outings, but he looked good often enough for the Rangers to move him to the majors.
Perez is a 6-0, 180 pound left-handed hitter and thrower, born April 4, 1991 in Guanare, Venezuela. I've seen him pitch several times over the last four years. On his best days, he looks like a pitcher should look: with a low-effort, clean and smooth delivery that generates easy velocity. At his best, he works at 92-94 MPH, topping out at 96, usually keeping the fastball low and picking up ground balls. His curveball and changeup are both very impressive pitches, at their best. When he's going well, he throws three plus major league pitches for quality strikes, and mows through a lineup with little difficulty.
The problem is, Perez is very inconsistent. Some days, he looks like a number one starter. Other days, he's lucky to escape the first inning. Although he usually maintains his velocity, he loses the touch with the curveball and changeup without warning, and his fastball command isn't good enough to compensate when that happens. On good days he demonstrates excellent pitching instincts and beyond-his-years mound presence. On bad days, he looks like a lost, confused, thrower.
Why is he so erratic? It is hard to say, except that you can usually tell if it is going to be a bad day for him very quickly. I think the biggest issue is that he's simply been pushed very rapidly, and the Rangers have promoted him at the earliest plausible moments. Perez has been very young for his leagues, and neither the Texas League nor the Pacific Coast League are forgiving environments. Neither is the American League.
You can draw a scenario where Perez develops into one of the best pitchers in baseball within two years. He could also struggle for awhile, or get hurt, or remain as erratic as he currently is for the rest of his career. He has one of the highest ceilings of any young pitcher in the game, but his floor is quite low as well.