Although he’s been injured and unable to pitch for what feels like an eternity, a healthy season could put the former prized prospect back on the map as he looks to catch up with the rest of the pack in 2020.
If fans have forgotten about Franklin Perez, it’s difficult to blame them. Perez was once the prize prospect in the trade that sent Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros late August 2017. Since then, Perez has thrown exactly 27 innings of baseball; battling shoulder injuries that have kept him off the mound.
Between his lack of innings, the emergence of other prospects, and his disappearance off many of the popular prospect lists he once appeared high on, Perez has become an afterthought in the context of players that figure to make an impact for Detroit in the near future. Perez looks to change that, though, as he has made several strong impressions among those that have seen him this spring, including pitching coach Rick Anderson, who thinks he could be the best prospect in the system if he can stay healthy. Our friend Kenon Carter from Detroit Tigers Minor League Tracker posted some video from his live session here.
The stuff is there. Perez features a standard fastball, curve ball, slider, change-up starter arsenal and at 6’3″ and 197 lbs, he contains the physical attributes necessary to be a starting pitcher in the major leagues. The fastball is a plus pitch, with several reports of him hitting 95 mph with regularity prior to his shoulder issues. The fact he reached Double-A in Houston’s organization as a 19 year-old prior to the trade spoke to his advanced feel for pitching as well. Hard to say if that feel has progressed beyond that, though, as it is difficult to replicate in-game reps for a pitcher who has been off the field much of the past two seasons.
We all want Perez to do well. In fact, it is easy to visualize a scenario in which Perez succeeds this season. He is scheduled to start in Lakeland. Considering Perez’ experience, his age, the pitcher-friendly nature of the Florida State League, and his advanced feel for pitching, if he is in fact healthy, he could hit Double-A quickly. It’s even within his reach to hit Triple-A by the end of the season to fill a vacancy left by the likely late-season promotions of Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning, among others.
Unfortunately, it is even more simple to picture a season where Perez never makes it out of Lakeland if only for the simple fact that we’ve seen this story unfold that way before. Getting Perez out of spring will feel like a win for the organization and getting him on the mound against real hitters will feel like the jackpot. The puff pieces since Perez threw toward the front end of spring training are abounding; writers need something to get fans fired up for the season. While some feel the praise is severely premature, to me it represents vividly just how far away Perez is from becoming a legitimate prospect, let alone a major league asset.
The ‘if he can stay healthy’ caveat is a big one in the case of Perez. On top of the frequency of his injury, shoulder injuries specifically tend to be detrimental to pitchers. The big right handed hurler has not yet shown the ability to handle a starter’s workload through any minor league season. His biggest season was 2017, where he only threw 86.1 innings over 19 games (16 of which were starts). To anyone declaring they want to see 100 innings continuously in the same season before they begin to think of Perez as a prospect again, it’s hard sentiment to argue against. But if–if Perez can put together a full season of minor league baseball, he has propelled himself on the tails of the other big names in the upper minors.