On the surface, right-hander Freicer Perez does not seem like a prospect worth writing home about. He performed admirably in the Dominican Summer League in 2015, but his numbers declined in 2016. The 4.47 ERA he sported this past year is pedestrian itself, but looks worse when one consider the pitcher-friendly nature of the New York-Penn League.
He strikes out some batters, 8.4 per nine innings to be exact, but he also walked more than half as many and posted a dreadful 1.452 WHIP for the Yankees. In fact, when I traveled to cover the Staten Island Yankees this past summer, I specifically tried to avoid Perez’s starts so I could see a "real" prospect pitch.
Early last month, I came to Staten Island planning to watch highly-touted righty Austin DeCarr. To my surprise, though, Perez was on the bullpen mound warming up when I arrived at the stadium. I decided to give him a closer look. At the end of the night, I felt like I had found an extremely under-the-radar prospect.
I really like Perez’ delivery. His motion is repeatable, simple, and low effort, all good things for a young starting pitching prospect. He throws from a mid 3/4 arm slot. At 6’8", he uses his long legs very efficiently with a high leg kick and excellent extension to get the most out of his pitches. He hides the ball well, keeping his arm behind his back until the last possible moment before snapping it forward. The ball seems to catapult out of his hands. His delivery is explosive.
Perez’s defining pitch is his fastball. In my viewing, he sat 96-97 mph in first two innings and 93-94 mph from innings three to five. The pitch has downhill, sinking movement, making it difficult for batters to lift. His whole game plays off the fastball; he only uses off-speed to get that second strike. While his control needs work, as you might expect from a young flamethrower, he can locate the heater on both sides of the plate. Amazingly, this fastball seems to play even quicker than it shows on the radar gun. Perez’s size helps decrease hitter’s reaction time and the pitch jumps out of his hand. One more good sign for Perez: he maintained a solid 94 mph velocity well into the fifth inning.
FV Fastball Grade: 65/70
Perez’ change-up is by far is second-best pitch. It is a straight power change, sitting between 88-89 mph, reminiscent of C.C. Sabbathia’s trademark offering that he threw in his younger years. The change does not have much movement, but Perez is able to maintain his arm speed and throw it with good deception.
FV Change-up Grade: 45/55
Perez needs to generate more velocity and movement on his slider in order to develop it into a weapon. The pitch looks slurve-y at times and frequently hangs up in the zone. He changes arm slots from 3/4 to over the top in order to get more bite on the pitch, and this essentially tips the offering to the opposing team and increases the difficulty in finding and maintaining a consistent release point.
Right now, the slider sits 82-84 mph, almost fifteen miles per hour slower than his fastball. It is easy for batters to pick up out of his hand. Brooklyn did most of their damage off Perez on this pitch. I am optimistic about the future value of this pitch because, if Perez can ever figure out his release point, his quick-snap arm motion should make his slider nasty.
FV Slider Grade: 35/50
The 20-year-old’s curveball is more of a developmental pitch at this point. Perez has good control over the pitch, but it is slow (76-79 mph) and he did not use it much in the game. His 3/4 arm slot makes it hard to get on top of this pitch.
FV Curveball Grade: 25/35
Perez has the makings of a No. 3 starter. His fastball is dominant. His change-up can be above-average. His slider should make drastic improvements as he matures. He should discard his curveball and focus on improving the rest of his arsenal and his control. The Dominican appears to have good stamina for a prospect of his age, size, and arm strength. I watched Domingo Acevedo, John’s fifth-best Yankee prospect at the start of this season, at around the same time last year, and Perez is a much more polished starter, though his fastball has less movement. He could be an excellent bullpen contributor soon, but I think he can and should stick in the rotation.
Perez’s biggest weakness is struggle to put away batters due to the lack of a plus pitch other than his fastball. When hitters pick up on the heater, they can foul it off, work him for a walk, or wait for him to miss over the plate with off-speed. The development of his change-up and slider, along with improved control, should mitigate this issue.
Perez is currently ranked the No. 29 prospect on MLB.com’s Yankees Top 30 Prospects list. His mediocre 2016 stats may keep him on the fringes of the organizational rankings for another season. Nevertheless, I am expecting a breakout campaign from the righty in 2017. His stuff is too explosive not to dominate hitters in the lower minors. Freicer Perez is a player worth watching as he climbs the minor league ladder.