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Tigers prospect Wenceel Perez burst onto the radar in 2018

Perez made the most of his stateside debut, appearing in 16 games with the Single-A Whitecaps by season’s end.

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Seattle Mariners v Detroit Tigers Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

At the end of every season, like most sites, we will go through and review the year that was. From highlighting the top moments and performances to analyzing what went right or wrong, it gives us a chance to take a deeper look at the previous season and prepare for the long, cold abyss that is the baseball offseason. We have typically incorporated player reviews into this plan, breaking down the ups and downs of the year for all of the major contributors (and some not-so-major ones) for the Detroit Tigers.

This year, we’re going to do something different. With so much of the focus now on Detroit’s farm system and the players coming through the pipeline, we’re going to review how various prospects up and down the organization fared in 2018. There won’t be any rankings involved here — Emily Waldon of The Athletic has a fresh set of those up, if you’re interested — but we’ll try to inject some scouting knowledge along the way. The order will loosely follow that of West Michigan Whitecaps announcer Dan Hasty, who is tweeting about prospects on the daily, telling their unique stories.

Let’s get started.

Wenceel Perez has been our boy for a while now.

The 18-year-old shortstop signed with the Tigers out of Venezuela back in 2016, and made it onto our radar soon after. While he still had yet to play in a professional game at that point, he wasn’t a complete nobody; the Tigers gave him a $550,000 signing bonus, and he cracked TigsTown’s top 50 prospects list the following spring with four tools graded at average or better. He flashed those solid bat-to-ball skills in the Dominican Summer League in 2017, hitting .314 with a .387 on-base percentage in 61 games. Minor league stolen base totals should be taken with a huge grain of salt, but he also swiped 16 bags on 22 attempts that year.

Perez made his stateside debut this year, so we didn’t expect much from him. While you always want to see a player make a seamless jump from level to level, going from a Dominican or Venezuelan league to the United States is one of the toughest moves a player can make. Not only does the competition ramp up considerably — a lot of these teenagers are facing college arms by season’s end — but most of these players are also moving to a new country, and facing numerous challenges off the field.

Adding that context in makes Perez’s 2018 season that much more impressive. He showed out in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .383/.462/.543 in 20 games, and was quickly moved up to short-season Connecticut. His numbers took a big dip there — he produced a .592 OPS in 87 plate appearances, though maintained a modest 14 percent strikeout rate — but that didn’t stop the organization from moving him up to Single-A West Michigan for the Whitecaps’ stretch run. Perez rose to the occasion; he collected four hits in his first game for the ‘Caps, and hit .309/.324/.441 with three doubles and three triples in 16 games. He also stole four bases on five attempts, giving him 13 total steals on the year.

Wenceel Perez 2018 Stats

GCL Tigers 93 20 2 14 2 .383 .462 .543
Connecticut 87 8 1 8 7 .244 .287 .305
West Michigan 71 8 0 9 4 .309 .324 .441
Total 251 36 3 31 13 .312 .363 .429

While the batting average is nice and shiny, we should take Perez’s Single-A numbers with a grain of salt. He struggled in Connecticut, and saw his walk rate chopped in half after moving up to the New York-Penn League. That walk rate deteriorated even further at West Michigan, dropping to just 2.8 percent in a handful of games with the ‘Caps. His .309 batting average was also propped up by a .344 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). That’s not super high, but probably a bit unsustainable going forward. We’re also talking about just 16 games here; if you cut out his four-hit opener, his on-base percentage drops below .300.

However, there’s a lot to like with Perez. As mentioned, he is a well-rounded player, with above-average tools across the board (except for power). He has excellent bat-to-ball skills, including the ability to handle premium velocity, and appeared to have a good approach at the plate and command of the strike zone when facing age-appropriate pitching in the Gulf Coast League. He should develop a little bit of pop as he ages, though I wouldn’t expect a 20-homer season out of him at any point. Baseball America called him a “plus runner and stolen base threat,” and his ability to read plays like this will only improve with more seasoning.

Defensively, he’s a no-doubt shortstop. Scouts like his hands and his instincts, and have praised his overall athleticism ever since he was signed. He still needs to refine his overall game defensively, but what teenager doesn’t? He has the potential to be an above-average defender with a plus arm, and is a prospect that could move through the system quickly if he keeps hitting well.