Wenceel Perez represents hope for better days in Detroit baseball in a few different ways. The young shortstop was one in a series of signings that heralded a shift toward greater investment in the international free agent market. Perez stands out as the first wave of what appears to be a stronger international talent base than we’ve seen in a long time.
He also stands out because of his two-way skills at a crucial position. The Tigers have numerous other shortstop prospects, but no one who looks likely to be a quality major league regular. Perez is a long way from the show and still raw, but he represents the best balance and depth of skills at the key positional weakness in the Tigers’ rebuilding effort.
Perez hails from the Dominican Republic, and was inked for $550,000 as a 16-year-old. As a result of his signing bonus, he was on our radar before playing a game of pro ball. Scouts were praising his advanced ability as a hitter before most had even seen him. So far, Perez hasn’t disappointed.
The Tigers started Perez out in the Dominican Summer League as a 17-year-old in 2017. The young shortstop showed off a smooth stroke with an advanced approach and plus contact ability from both sides of the plate. In 2018, his age 18 season, he exploded onto the scene in the Gulf Coast League, posting a 1.006 OPS in 20 games. Perez moved quickly through the New York State-Penn League before wrapping the season with the Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps, where he held his own against older competition..
Not a lot of 18-year-olds look as good hitting against older pitchers as Perez did this season. He has enough discipline to wait out sketchy control, but retains a fairly aggressive approach. And he can flat-out hit. Perez has a quiet, compact swing from both sides of the plate. He keeps the barrel in the zone well, and gets it to the ball consistently. Excellent hand-eye coordination makes him exceedingly difficult to strike out, and while he’s still somewhat slight at 5’11, 170 lbs, average future power isn’t out of his reach.
Perez backs the bat, which FanGraphs projects to a future plus hit tool, with plus speed, and the makings of a solid defensive shortstop. He’s not a true burner on the basepaths, but with more experience appears to have the first step and speed to steal 15-20 bases a year in the major leagues. Defensively he’s never going to be Jose Iglesias, but he has the first step, hands, agility and arm strength to project as an average defensive shortstop eventually. Work remains to be done on his fundamentals, but defense isn’t likely to hold him back as he progresses toward the major leagues.
Perhaps the best attribute Perez has is a general lack of weaknesses. He’s not going to get to the major leagues on his glove alone, but it should be good enough to play at the major league level. Plus speed should allow him to maintain some base-stealing ability even as he fills out. If there’s a weakness, it’s simply a matter of muscle and youth.
Currently, FanGraphs rates Perez’s future game power as a 40, well below average. They do grade him as a future 50 raw power, however. The projection isn’t there in his frame to really be a major home run threat, but his contact ability should allow him to maximize his power potential. Currently he sprays hard line drives and groundballs around the field with good power in the gaps. The rest is whether he can continue to add good muscle in the years to come without losing the athleticism that allows him to handle the shortstop position.
Perez has the developing strength and bat speed to produce some power and handle more advanced pitching, but he’s not likely to develop into a home run threat on the order of a Francisco Lindor. So don’t start taking bets on his All-Star appearances. And while his glove should play, he’s not going to generate a lot of extra value defensively. Solid defense at a premium position is the ceiling here. His chances of developing into an above average player lie almost entirely with his bat. But his advanced hit tool and overall well-roundedness bode well for his continued development on that front. Perez has a long way to go, but he stands out among the other shortstops in the Tigers’ system as the one most likely to succeed.
Projected 2019 Team: Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps
Some are already ranking Perez among the Tigers’ top 10 prospects. We’d like to see a year of A-ball first, but it’s entirely possible that Perez rockets toward the top of our rankings over the course of the 2019 season. Either way, fans in West Michigan have a fun year to look forward to. Perez should be the Whitecaps starting shortstop this season, and between he and young outfielders like Parker Meadows and Kingston Liniak, they have the makings of a solid core of young position players. If Perez can shore up his defense a little and acclimate to the grind of full season ball, he may be making top 100 prospect list appearances this time next year.