The Detroit Tigers’ trade of Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros was the most painful trade in the team’s history. While there were good arguments as to its necessity, dealing probably the greatest pitcher the franchise has known was the knockout punch that let everyone in baseball know that the party was over in Detroit. Now the job of bringing the Tigers back to relevance falls on young players like new number one prospect, Franklin Perez, who was the headline piece in the Verlander deal.
Currently, Perez is ranked as the 39th prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline. Other sites are more reserved, but there’s a general consensus that Perez has a very good shot to become a major league starter. There is near total consensus that he is the Tigers’ number one prospect. While he doesn’t possess quite the same future ace potential that fellow 20-year-old Matt Manning does, Perez is more experienced and much more precocious.
Unfortunately, Tigers fans will have to wait a while longer to see him in action. His recent lat injury will probably cost him half the season. No injury is a good one, but in the grand scheme of things, this probably won’t slow his progress all that much. Perez was so far ahead of most pitchers his age that it isn’t even a real setback assuming his rehabilitation goes well.
In 2014, Perez was signed for a million dollar bonus out of Valencia, Venezuela by the Astros. The Carlos Guillen Baseball Academy product was originally a third baseman before being converted to pitching full-time. His progress since that point has been relatively unblemished. Perez threw strikes from the beginning and as he filled out, his stuff took a quantum leap. By age 18, he was man-handling Class A ball for half a season.
During the 2017 season, Perez split the year between Advanced A-ball and the Double-A level. Things went swimmingly in the former. Working for the Buies Creek Astros, Perez torched the Carolina League with a strikeout per inning and a 2.98 ERA. The Astros’ front office made an aggressive move to promote him to the Corpus Christi Hooks, and the 19-year-old saw his strikeout touch decrease along with a little harder contact. Still he was extremely effective with a 3.09 ERA and served notice that he was well ahead of the curve and more than capable of matching up with the better minor league players in the game
Perez has a classic starter’s build despite his youth. He stand 6’ 3” and looks decidedly bigger than his listed 197 pounds. He’s already an imposing specimen on the mound with room to get stronger. With that size comes velocity and, one would hope, the durability to be a middle of the rotation workhorse. His style is decidedly that of a power pitcher. However there’s also a lot of touch in Perez’ game, especially for one so young.
His command is advanced and he already features a plus changeup as his primary offspeed pitch. His high arm slot adds deception and Perez will play with variations in timing to keep hitters off balance.
Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs ran an excellent piece after the Verlander trade breaking down Perez’s arsenal.
Perez, who has a deceptive, vertical arm slot, features a mid-90s fastball that tops out around 96. It has grounder-inducing plane when Perez is locating it down and it’s quick enough to miss bats up at the letters, where he most frequently works with it. He also has feel for locating an above-average curveball and flashes a fading, above-average changeup.
If there’s something lacking from Perez’s game, it’s a dominant breaking ball. His curveball is at least average and it plays up due to his command, but it’s more of a change of pace pitch than a true swing-and-miss offering. Perez has a slider in development, but thus far it’s somewhat blunt with 12-6 movement. An arm slot as high as Perez’s isn’t necessarily good for a slider but there’s enough potential when he breaks off a good one that a future plus pitch remains a possibility. Still, that’s the pitch standing between Perez being a solid future starter and a dominant one.
His fastball may also need a bit of tweaking to thrive against major league hitters. He can obviously spin it, but the heater is straight at times. The downward plane Perez gets on it may balance that out in some measure. There are also scouts who will worry that such an over the top delivery makes Perez susceptible to east-west command issues. While advanced for his age, Perez will occasionally battle his control. Still his overall athleticism bodes well for him overcoming minor challenges that come his way.
Perez has a pretty high floor for a starting pitching prospect. Consistently high marks for his work ethic, intelligence and character also bode well for him getting the most out of his talent. The questions really revolve around his maximum potential.
2018 Projected Team: Double-A Erie SeaWolves
The lat injury Perez suffered in spring training probably means he won’t be advancing beyond the Double-A level this season. However, the injury shouldn’t cause him any long-term issues, and it doesn’t hurt that the time off will slow his clock just a bit. Had Perez come out on fire with the SeaWolves this spring, there would have been a lot of pressure to continuing challenging him. The Tigers may have moved him to Triple-A and from there his first major league start wouldn’t be far off. Perez will heal, return to Erie, and possibly get some work in the Arizona Fall League after the regular season. If all goes well, his major league debut is a good possibility in 2019.
You get a pretty good idea of who Perez is as a pitcher in this at-bat. Stylistically, he bears some resemblance to Auburn right-hander Casey Mize who is skyrocketing up draft boards this season. Both are effective up-and-down rather than east-to-west, leaning on their changeups as their best secondary pitch. Current theory likes those traits to manage the extremes of the launch angle era.
Perez has as high an arm slot as you see these days. The fastball is firm, and he’ll sit 93-95 and reach back for a touch more when he wants it. His delivery tends to produce a pretty straight rising fourseamer, which he’ll even cut a little bit at times. But he’s got so much angle that he can move up and down with a lot of deception with all his pitches.
The changeup he throws in the third pitch of the at-bat showcases the huge velocity separation from his fastball, fading action and drop of the pitch has at its best. Meanwhile the slider is a little blunt and lags behind the other two offerings. There’s some attitude behind that last fastball, and you can see how well Perez repeats his delivery.