When creating our top 30 prospect list for the 2020 season, there was one Tigers farmhand who had us completely flummoxed. Righthander Franklin Perez, the centerpiece of the trade that sent franchise legend Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros in 2017, was our top prospect heading into 2018. He struggled with injuries that season, but still landed in our top five at this time last year.
This year, Perez was omitted from our top 30 list.
This is not to say that Perez did not, or should not make a list of the top 30 prospects in the Tigers’ organization. He is still young and talented, with the potential to be a true mid-rotation starter. Even as a bullpen arm, one assumes he would have the raw talent to be included among the top pitchers in the system.
But with so little data available on Perez’s progression since arriving in the system — not to mention his uncertain status in regards to a mysterious shoulder injury — we did not feel comfortable including Perez in our rankings.
Because Perez has seen so little time on the mound over the past two years, any publicly available reports about his arsenal, velocity, mechanics, and the like are out of date. MLB Pipeline notes that Perez “has four pitches at his disposal when he’s healthy, all of which he can throw for strikes,” and that his fastball can reach 95-96 miles per hour at times. However, this assessment is exactly the same as their 2018 write-up, and only a slight deviation from their 2017 summary.
Though he’s just a teenager, Perez already demonstrates feel for four offerings. His most consistent pitch right now is his lively fastball, which sits at 92-94 mph, peaks at 96 and could add more velocity once he physically matures.
Other sites took a similar tone when reassessing Perez prior to 2019, and will likely offer a familiar refrain in 2020. Perez is still very young, at 22, especially for a starter with a handful of Double-A innings under his belt. If he can still reach the mid-90s with his fastball and hasn’t lost any bite on his secondary offerings, he’s still one of the better prospects in the Tigers’ entire system.
Given how much time Perez has missed due to injury, however, his velocity and raw stuff are now an open question. Shoulder injuries are particularly troublesome for pitchers, and Perez is now battling back from two years of basically not pitching. That’s two years of missed development, and two years of deconditioning on his arm. Even getting back to the 86 1⁄3 innings he threw in 2017 (a career-high for him) would be a major victory for the young righthander. Getting him to a full starter’s workload will take another year or two beyond that.
And that is assuming Perez stays healthy. He has missed the past two years, as noted, but also had knee trouble in 2016. The Tigers have generally been better than most at keeping their pitchers healthy, but some pitchers — even big-bodied ones like Perez or, say, Michael Fulmer — are more brittle than others. Perez has yet to show he can handle a full season of pitching; we estimate that he hasn’t even thrown 500 pitches in regular season game action with the Tigers yet.
This is not us closing the book on Perez as a prospect. He is still plenty young enough to turn things around and enjoy a long, prosperous career in the major leagues. Previous reports indicate that he has the natural talent to do so as well. If he does perform well, he will almost surely rocket up our mid-season rankings, near where he sat previously.
But without any current information available to us, we don’t know where he lands right now.