If the last few seasons have taught the Tigers and their fans anything, it is how easily a lack of depth can be exposed. The bullpen and its issues -- depth being one of them -- go without saying. The Tigers' lackluster bench depth has also been exposed during the past few seasons, but most notably during last year's postseason. With his team on the brink of elimination in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the ALDS, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus called on Hernan Perez to pinch hit for shortstop Andrew Romine. Perez grounded into a double play, ending the Tigers' season.
This isn't an indictment of Perez; rather, it is a revelation of how inefficient the Tigers have used their bench in recent years. The Tigers spent most of the 2014 season with Andrew Romine, Don Kelly, Rajai Davis, and Bryan Holaday as their primary bench options. None of those four provide a serious offensive threat, yet they were all largely necessary to provide different defensive roles. With Kelly gone, Perez may be one of the players called on to step into a bench role.
However, the Tigers are addressing the issue. Perez, an athletic player with good hands and a natural feel for infield play, is playing outfield in winter ball in Venezuela in hopes of improving his versatility. Assuming he looks comfortable in this new role, Perez could effectively replace both Romine and Kelly on the 2015 roster, leaving room for a more offensively-inclined player. Even if the outfield experiment is a failure, Perez should see plenty of time in Detroit next season.
Perez is a right-handed Venezuelan infielder who signed with the Tigers as an amateur free agent in 2007. Despite the 2015 season being his eighth in the organization, Perez is still only 23 years old (he will be 24 on Opening Day). He progressed slowly through the lower levels of the minors, spending two years at Single-A West Michigan in 2010 and 2011. He hit .261 at Advanced-A Lakeland in 2012, and made his MLB debut on June 9th when Jhonny Peralta went on paternity leave. Perez only appeared in two games for the Tigers that season, and spent the rest in Lakeland.
Perez had somewhat of a breakout season in 2013, hitting .301 with a .330 on-base percentage in 458 plate appearances between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. He only hit four home runs, but added 31 doubles and a pair of triples to his tally for a .410 slugging average. He had a couple lengthy stints in the majors that season, but hit just .197/.217/.227 in 71 plate appearances. While there was shortstop turmoil abound in 2014, Perez spent most of the season at Toledo, where he hit .287/.331/.404 in 596 plate appearances. He earned another September call-up, but only collected one hit in five at-bats.
Perez is a strong defender capable of fielding multiple positions. While he started his professional career as a shortstop, he has shown the most promise at second base after moving there in 2011. He has the glove to be an everyday second baseman, but is probably better served as a bench option at shortstop or third base. Unlike some, Perez's second base profile isn't due to a lack of arm strength; he has a strong enough arm to play on the left side of the infield. He is an athletic player who shows good range at all positions, prompting the Tigers to try him in the outfield this winter.
Perez also shows good speed to go along with his athletic build and solid defensive range. TigsTown's Mark Anderson gave a brief synopsis of Perez's speed as part of a full scouting report.
Speed: Can show above-average down the line; speed plays well thanks to instincts; gets out of the box well; aggressive on turns and in taking extra bases; has instincts to steal; reads pitchers well; good jumps and quick first step lead to high success rate; potential to swipe 20+ bases with full time job; quick twitch athlete that should maintain speed long term. Grade – 5+/5+
Perez is a good contact hitter who does not strike out often. He fanned just 10.9 percent of the time last season at Triple-A Toledo, and hit a healthy .287 in 596 plate appearances. This is the second year in a row that Perez has hit this well; he hit .301 in 458 combined plate appearances at Double and Triple A in 2013. He doesn't have much home run power, but has enough pop to drive the ball into the gap with regularity, as his 63 doubles over the past two seasons attest. Perez also collected seven triples at Triple A last season.
MLB.com currently ranks Perez as the sixth-best prospect in the Tigers organization, and offered a fairly rosy outlook on his offensive abilities.
Perez makes consistent line-drive contact to all fields, though he's so good at putting the bat on the ball that he rarely walks. He has occasional pop and runs the bases with average speed and keen instincts. Unless he develops more patience, he probably fits toward the bottom of a big league batting order.
While Perez's plate discipline isn't quite as bad as Steven Moya's, per se, reports all over the internet have compared the two thanks to their hyper-aggressive approaches at the plate. Perez is much better at making contact, which helps keep his strikeout rate down. However, it also leads to a fair bit of weak contact, resulting in a heat map that looks like this (courtesy of MLB Farm).
The plate discipline issues limit Perez's offensive profile, and thus his overall potential. He has enough gap power and the glove to make it as an everyday player, but his low on-base percentage is an issue. For instance, Perez hit .301 in 384 plate appearances at Double-A Erie in 2013. However, he only walked 12 times, resulting in a .325 on-base percentage.
Jordan rated Perez as the ninth-best prospect in the system last season, and also made the Moya comparison.
Perez has better hand eye than Moya, yet doesn't possess the crazy raw power. However, Hernan has the raw tools to be a .270-.280 hitter, yet with a relatively low OBP. I'm not sold on Perez as an every day 2B at this point, although frankly, looking around the league, you could probably do worse.
Video via MLB Prospect Portal and MLB Farm
Projected team: Detroit Tigers
Perez is out of options, and the Tigers have had him taking reps in the outfield during winter ball in order to improve his versatility. He, Andrew Romine, and Tyler Collins -- among others -- will be competing for two bench spots this spring, and while Collins is the only true outfielder of the group, Perez will probably have the inside track on a roster spot if he looks fairly comfortable. Moving forward, this will probably be the extent of Perez's role at the big league level. He does not project to add any power offensively, and his aggressive approach limits his offensive upside as a leadoff-type hitter. Despite these limitations, Perez should carve out a nice career in a utility role.
New addition: Kyle Ryan, left-handed pitcher
Ryan had one of the more underrated MLB debuts for the Tigers in recent memory, tossing six shutout innings in a pivotal late season matchup against a divisional opponent in a tight pennant race. A left-hander with a delivery that is impossible to describe without the word "funk," Ryan relies on deception to be effective. He projects to be a fringe starter, but hit 94 miles per hour with his fastball in a few relief appearances with the Tigers last September. If his stuff truly plays up in the bullpen, he could make a nice career as a full-time reliever.