A reader recently asked me for a rundown on what I wrote about Texas Rangers pitcher Martin Perez in the various editions of the Baseball Prospect Book. This seemed like something that might interest others, too, tracking how Perez moved through the minors and perhaps getting a read on where he may be going.
What I wrote in 2009: The Rangers signed Martin Perez out of Venezuela in 2007. He made his pro debut as a 17-year-old in the Northwest League, pitching against older competition, and he acquitted himself quite well. Although his component ratios were not outstanding statistically, he held his own considering his age, and scouts like his stuff: 89-93 MPH fastball and a nasty-ass curveball. Perez is a long way from the majors, and a lot of questions need to be addressed: can he stay healthy? Can he sharpen his command? Can he develop a better changeup? Age-relative-to-league isn’t everything, but it is surely something, and I think Perez has a bright future if he can keep his arm attached. Grade B-
2010: A Venezuelan signed in 2007, Perez is another product of Texas’ impressive Latin American scouting effort. He did excellent work in the South Atlantic League last year, dominating with his 92-95 MPH fastball, outstanding changeup, and greatly- improved curveball. Although his control wasn’t always perfect, his K/IP and H/IP marks were strong, and at age 18 he was one of the youngest players in full-season ball last year. The Rangers raised some eyebrows with an aggressive move in August, promoting Perez to Double-A. He got destroyed in his first start, giving up eight hits and seven runs in 2.2 innings against Tulsa on August 12th. I didn’t get to see this game, but one of my sources who did said that Perez looked completely lost on the mound, out of his depth in Double-A. He pitched poorly in his second start, but turned things around after that by throwing five shutout innings in his third, demonstrating some mental and emotional fortitude after the first two bad games. Overall his five-start apprenticeship in Double-A resulted in two good outings and four poor ones, but given his age and experience level this wasn’t unexpected. Perez is a special talent, drawing comparisons to people like Johan Santana. That’s a huge burden to live up to, and Perez would likely benefit by a consolidation season in ’10. If I were the Rangers, I’d put him in Double-A and leave him there for at least 20 starts even if he pitches great. But the Rangers tend to be more aggressive about promotions than I am, and surprisingly, they haven’t asked me. Perez still has some things to learn, but his ceiling is remarkably high. Grade A-.
2011: One of my regrets for 2010 is that I didn’t get to see Martin Perez pitch in person for Frisco. I usually get good personal coverage on the Texas League, but circumstances kept conspiring to prevent me from seeing him. This annoyed me, because reports about Perez, both public ones and private ones from personal sources, were all over the map, and I wanted to see it for myself. Obviously, his statistics were weak as you can see above (5.96 ERA, 117 hits in 100 innings). What went wrong? At his best, he showed the same 92-95 MPH fastball he had in 2009, and both his curveball and changeup also rated as above average in some appearances. But that wasn’t always the case; there were starts where he was just throwing in the 88-92 range. Sometimes his breaking ball was flat. Sometimes he lost the feel for his changeup. Sometimes his mechanics were out of whack and his command vanished. Sometimes he looked totally overmatched and less than confident on the mound. And sometimes he looked just fine. His season ended early with a strained lower back, so perhaps that had something to do with his season. Perez was just 19 years old last year; very young for the Texas League, and as long as his arm is OK a rebound seems like a good bet. But I’m spooked enough to lower his rating by a notch, and we need to watch this one closely in 2011. Grade B+.
2012 (This comment was based on seeing him twice in person in '11) The Rangers have been very aggressive with Martin Perez. He did not pitch well in the Texas League in 2010, but he was just 19 years old. He returned to Frisco to begin 2011 and was more effective (3.16 ERA, 83/36 K/BB in 88 innings), although his component ratios weren’t exceptional. They promoted him to Triple-A at mid-season and, not surprisingly, he got lit up in the Pacific Coast League (6.43 ERA, 72 hits in 49 innings). At his best, Perez has a 90-94 MPH fastball, a plus curve, and a plus changeup. However, the quality of his secondary pitches varies from start to start. Sometimes his breaking ball is flat. His command remains inconsistent, and his mechanics are not always perfect, which costs him both location and movement on his worst days. His secondary pitches were ineffective at fooling older hitters in the PCL, and his command wasn’t good enough to compensate. Perez still has everything needed to become a number two or three starter, and the fact that the Rangers have pushed him so fast indicates what they think about his talent, but he’s not ready yet. Grade B+.
2013 (Again based on personal observations). Some outlets in the Prospect Industrial Complex still hype Perez as an excellent pitching prospect, although we don’t hear too many of those Johan Santana comparisons these days. Certainly Perez has talent; he still has a fastball that gets up to 94 MPH, and on his best days his curveball and changeup look really sharp. He’s still got that nice sweet smooth delivery. He’s adding a slider to his arsenal. That’s all well and good, and maybe it is just me, but I’m developing some skepticism about Perez matching the hype. A big red flag is his very low K/IP ratio in Triple-A (69/56 K/BB in 127 innings). Having seen him in person several times over the last few years, I can attest that the stats are not a fluke. He’ll have games where the curveball doesn’t curve and the changeup is just a slow fastball down the middle. When that happens, the hitters aren’t fooled, he doesn’t strike anyone out, and he gets lit up. The Rangers were very aggressive with their handling of Perez and I’m not sure that was to his benefit. As it stands, Perez could end up taking a large role on the Rangers staff in 2013 if he looks good in spring training, or he could be back in Triple-A working on his consistency. Watch his strikeouts. If his K/IP moves back up, he’s figuring something out. Given his age, I will be generous with the rating for one more year. Grade B.
Summary: As you can see from his history, Perez was something of an enigma as a prospect, at least to me. The talent was clearly there but he was always one of the youngest guys in his leagues and it showed: you never knew what you were going to get from start to start, with his secondary pitches varying between excellent and non-existent.
What now? As you know, Perez made 20 starts for the Rangers in 2013 and eight more so far this year. He now has 213.2 major league innings under his belt, equivalent to one full season, with 34 starts and six relief appearances. He's gone 15-13, 4.13 overall, ERA+ 101, FIP 4.08, with a 144/71 K/BB, 226 hits allowed, and a career fWAR of 3.0.
That's not exceptional but it isn't bad at all for a guy who just turned 23. If he avoids injuries he should have a long and successful career, even if he isn't Johan Santana. Alas, Perez was just diagnosed with elbow inflammation so good health is not guaranteed.