Much of the prospect ink spilled on the Tigers behalf over the past year has been dedicated to players like Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Isaac Paredes, Daz Cameron, and Jake Rogers. It’s been somewhat easy to forget that Cameron and Rogers were secondary pieces in the Justin Verlander trade to the Houston Astros. The headliner of the Tigers’ acquisitions in the deal, right-handed pitcher Franklin Perez, endured a host of injuries in 2018 that turned it into a lost season. As a result, our top-ranked Tigers’ prospect from a year ago now checks in at number five.
In recent years particularly, the Tigers have been cautious with young players, shutting down prospects like Kyle Funkhouser and Spencer Turnbull for long stretches because of issues with elbow and shoulder inflammation, respectively. That care paid dividends in 2018, as both were relatively healthy, able to compete a full slate of innings and showed improvements in their command. However, both pitchers are in their mid-20’s, with plenty of work and experience already behind them. Franklin Perez is a different case, and so it will be interesting to see how the Tigers handle the talented young hurler this season.
Franklin Perez was a 17-year-old Venezuelan third baseman working out at the Carlos Guillen Baseball Academy when the Houston Astros took a liking to him. They identified his true potential as a pitcher, and signed him for a million dollars. Perez rewarded his new club by developing rapidly into a hard throwing young starter with a precocious changeup and advanced control. Two years later, Perez had already made a successful jump to the Double-A level when he was dealt to Detroit.
After so much smooth sailing, perhaps a setback year was inevitable.
The Tigers only got a brief look at Perez last March before he suffered a lat strain that kept him on the shelf until June. Unfortunately, that return was short-lived, as Perez quickly succumbed to shoulder inflammation which led the Tigers to shut him down for the rest of the season. Perez encamped around Lakeland this offseason in an effort to improve his flexibility and functional strength with the Tigers’ training staff. If that decision pays dividends for his health, Franklin Perez is going to be back on the fast track to the major leagues.
The first thing you notice about Franklin Perez is that he is a fairly imposing individual. Still listed at 6’3, 197 pounds, he’s a good deal bigger than that now, with huge legs, a powerful, muscular frame, and solid athleticism overall. His size and lower body strength are exactly what teams look for in a starting pitcher, hoping for durability and easy gas. That durability took a hit in 2018, but there are plenty of reasons Perez was BYB’s consensus number one ranked Tigers’ prospect this time last year.
Perez has a powerful motion off the rubber, but doesn’t have to overthrow to sit 93-95 mph out of a high arm slot. He’s also capable of reaching back for a little more when he wants it. That arm slot has its pluses and minuses, but it produces enough downward plane that Perez can get groundballs low in the zone, while still regularly working at the top of the zone with the heater. It provides some deception, but makes it tougher to really get substantial horizontal break on any of his offerings.
That arm slot, combined with good extension and arm speed, does add to the deception of Perez’s changeup. He’s shown advanced feel for the pitch since he was a teenager, and has confidence in it as a primary secondary offering. The changeup has good fading action, and if he can build on its consistency, Perez should take a plus changeup to the majors eventually.
The better of Perez’ two breaking balls is the curveball. The curve packs good spin and looping, 12-to-6 break, and again the pitch seems to pair well with the fastball and changeup. It’s not a high-end curveball, but it’s average with a chance for more, and Perez showed pretty good command of it prior to missing most of 2018.
Finally, while most young pitchers are held back by their command above all else, Perez has always been precocious in that department as well. Not only does he throw strikes, but when last seen in a groove back in 2017, Perez was locating three pitches down to both sides of the plate, and changing hitters’ eye level by going upstairs with the heater. If he can come out strong in 2019 and recapture these attributes, Perez is actually pretty close to a major league ready pitching prospect.
We can sum these up fairly simply. More than anything else, Perez needs to stay healthy and start building up his innings workload again in 2019. He spent the whole offseason in Florida to continue training at the Tigers’ Lakeland facilities, which is a good sign for his devotion. While he didn’t suffer any major injuries last year, the shoulder inflammation he dealt with has to be the key concern. The organization will hope that adjustments in his strength and conditioning, or perhaps a minor alteration to his delivery, can minimize future shoulder issues.
Tied into those health risks, is the fact that Perez is still young and just doesn’t have that much work under his belt yet. He’s only been pitching for a few years. On the one hand, perhaps that bodes well for his recovery. His body is still getting accustomed to the workload. On the other, some people just can’t hold up to the physical stress of being a professional pitcher, no matter how strong they are. The Tigers have to worry about the latter scenario, while hoping these are just growing pains along the way.
Beyond health, another issue that may hold Perez back is his lack of a quality slider. He’ll flash a good one now and then, but his arm slot just isn’t conducive to developing a really good slide piece. Perez has enough with his changeup and curveball to succeed anyway, but the changeup will really have to reach its ceiling for Perez to reach his. The curveball is solid, but just not likely to be a consistent swing-and-miss offering.
Finally, if there’s one final flaw in the Franklin Perez package, it’s just the fact that he’s not that far from a finished product. There isn’t a ton of forecasted development left in the tank, barring major and probably ill-advised delivery changes. His motion doesn’t bode real well for major steps in his command, and the breaking balls leave something to be desired. On the one hand this means that his ceiling is limited, and Perez doesn’t really have ace potential. On the other, it means he’s relatively close to being major-league ready, and could surprise with how fast he moves should his body allow it.
Projected 2019 team: Double-A Erie SeaWolves
Perez has already succeeded at the Double-A level, so while he may get some time in extended spring camp to save his arm and work on a few things, there just isn’t much for him to learn in the Florida State League. The Tigers will probably control his workload pretty tightly, but he needs to face hitters in the upper minors to improve. Look for him to be under strict workload restriction early on, but if all goes well, Perez will spend most of the year in Erie. With luck, he could even reach Toledo on the cusp of his first major league callup by year’s end.