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Tigers player preview: Hernán Pérez adds depth from the bench

Hernán Pérez excites few prospect pickers but he is ready to be part of a contending team.

Hernan Perez throws to first base in a spring 2014 game against the Pirates at Joker Marchant Stadium
Hernan Perez throws to first base in a spring 2014 game against the Pirates at Joker Marchant Stadium
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

You may have certain beliefs regarding the Tigers' prospects, and Hernán Pérez in particular, subscribing to one of the following three thoughts. One, that the Tigers have traded away all of their "major league ready" prospects. Two being that Detroit tried everybody and his brother at shortstop last year, and Pérez was used for less than one full game, thus Pérez is not an option at shortstop. Or three, Pérez has already played parts of three seasons in Detroit, so his days as a prospect are past.

Well I am here to help you reconsider these notions.

Pérez was barely on the radar in 2013, ranking 27th on our prospect list. But he played 34 games in Detroit and finished the season at the top of the second base depth chart. Then Prince Fielder was traded for Ian Kinsler, and Pérez disappeared to Toledo.

Recalled in September 2014, Pérez made a significant contribution to the Tigers' first place finish. While he made only six plate appearances, Pérez alertly noted that Salvador Perez failed to tag up when scoring on a bizarre play in Kansas City. The Tigers won the game by one run, and the division by one game. Oh, the details that WAR does not capture on which a season can pivot. The replay rules were changed for the 2015 season because of this play, so if nothing else Pérez is already a footnote in baseball history.

But the 23-year-old was soon to be the center of controversy, as Rob noted in his prospect piece:

With his team on the brink of elimination in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the ALDS, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus called on Pérez to pinch hit for shortstop Andrew Romine. Perez grounded into a double play, ending the Tigers' season.

This isn't an indictment of Pérez. 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 Romine, Don KellyRajai Davis, and Bryan Holaday as their primary bench options.

So what is Pérez's role on the Tigers? A utility infielder, like Ramon Santiago? A jack-of-all-trades, like Don Kelly? A starting second baseman? A starting shortstop? A fringe player? A bench player?

Through 2013, Pérez had played roughly equally at second base and shortstop in the minors. Last year, he played 118 games at shortstop for Toledo, and only 14 at second base. This is opposite typical prospect advancement, where a team may like a player's bat as he moves up the ladder, but move him to less demanding defensive positions. Remember, Nick Castellanos was drafted as a shortstop.

Matt Eddy of Baseball America, noting Pérez was fifth in Triple-A for five assists per game, praised Pérez in an article titled "Shortstop Prospects Worth Loving For Their Gloves."

Toledo's Hernán Pérez (Tigers) led all International League shortstops in assists (334), putouts (175), double plays (71) and fielding percentage (.970), and he's building credit as perhaps a future utility infielder or possibly starter with back-to-back productive seasons at the plate in the high minors.

You prefer the eye test? Try this highlight.

Yet the BYB community ranked Perez as prospect #12, likely due to prospect fatigue.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has him playing shortstop in spring games. José Iglesias is being treated like fine china for now. Eugenio Suárez was discarded like last night's delivery pizza box. Romine looks like a poor man's Don Kelly, without the Jim Leyland connection. Get used to seeing Pérez.

Contract status

Pérez debuted at the tender age of 21 and turns 24 this month. Steven Moya turns 24 this season, too. Pérez has less than a year of major league service, and is under team control through 2020. He is out of options, and therefore will almost certainly head north with the team.

Stats and projections
2014 (AAA) 596 6 69 53 21 .287 .331 .404 .332
Steamer 174 2 17 15 5 .250 .281 .345 .277
ZiPS 572 6 56 45 20 .262 .292 .354 .286

ZiPS projects a 1.7 WAR, suggesting the Tigers have a league-average shortstop waiting in the wings, with no hype. Suárez projects at 2.2 WAR and Reds fans are giddy. Iglesias has a 1.2 WAR projection, but defense is finicky and the excitement factor is much higher. Romine's 0.1 WAR projection means he needs to demonstrate the ability to play everywhere. Dixon Machado has a 1.6 WAR projection. You could argue that the Tigers have four shortstops deserving playing time. What a difference a year makes.

Last year I had this to say about Pérez:

Pérez should get comfortable with the idea of playing in Toledo, hoping for a few quick trips up I-75 to Detroit. Long term, he could be the next Ramon Santiago.

Well, get comfortable he did. As I write, I am watching a replay of the March 11 spring game. Pérez slams one to the opposite field for a triple, making Bryce Harper look bad in the process.

This year he should plan to spend the season in Detroit, establishing himself as a vital part of the roster and filling many roles. The lack of hype means only that President and GM Dave Dombrowski has no thoughts of trading him.