Today’s profile on 30 Rangers In 30 Days, Martin Perez, may very well not even crack the Rangers Opening Day roster. In fact, if I had to handicap the odds of him being the Rangers #5 starter come the first week of the season, I’d feel safe anticipating somewhere around 20%. (Robbie Ross and Justin Grimm would also take 20% apiece, with the other 40% given to a pitcher currently outside the organization.) My reasoning for choosing Perez today is that, in the unlikely event we do not sign a 5th starter, I believe Texas will give their 22 year-old top pitching prospect first dibs on the last spot. That’s all I got.
My basis is that Perez is (a) more advanced than Grimm from an every-5th-day perspective, and (b) that Robbie Ross, given his propensity to effectively command only two pitches, could use another year in the bullpen to develop his change up.
Martin Perez was signed back in 2007 as an international free agent out of Venezuela, as a 16 year-old, for a mere $500K. As a left-hander with three projectable “plus” pitches (fastball/curveball/change up), he quickly transformed into one of the Rangers’ upper-tier prospects, pitching at Minor League levels featuring players 4 and 5 years older than he was. As a 17 year-old in Spokane (short-season single-A), he faced newly-drafted college talent. As an 18 year-old pitching in full-season single-A in Hickory, he battled 22 and 23 year-olds.
Then, still a teenager (18), he was skipped over the offense-happy Advanced-A California League to get his feet wet in AA. He’s easily been the youngest player in his league essentially from the start.
However, as most prospects tend to gain in value as they travel up the Minor League ranks, Perez has (seemingly) gone the opposite route. In his first full professional season, pitching for the Hickory Crawdads, he dominated single-A hitters to the tune of a 2.31 ERA in 93.2 innings, striking out 105. The final 21.0 innings he pitched that year were in Frisco (AA), where he understandably struggled for the first time in his young career (5.57 ERA). Still, he was only 18. Since that time, which has been a full three seasons of work, it’s been his control — something that was always considered one of his strengths — that’s left him.
In 2010, ’11 and ’12, he’s accumulated roughly 370.0 Minor League innings, issuing 162 walks. That may not sound like much, but it’s basically a walk every 2.1 IP. Not exactly poor, but certainly not a good sign for one expected to be a frontline starting pitcher. It’s especially telling, because in that time frame he’s only retired 178 batters via the strikeout. Again, not bad, but also not elite.
His trajectory from potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher to meddling middle-of-the-rotation pitcher is (kind of) in unison with the non-awe-inspiring 38.0 innings he threw with the Major League club in 2012, in which he walked 15, striking out 25 and allowing 47 hits, yielding an ERA of 5.45. That’s an extremely small sample, but not something the casual fan can draw confidence from.
All this said, I have a hard time throwing too much dirt on his shoes, because he’s only going to be 22 when the season starts. I mean, most 22 year-olds are either dazed and confused living out the remainder of their college days, or making minimum wage at some job they can’t stand. Or, in baseball terms, probably somewhere between rural Nebraska and some desolate town in South Carolina playing in single-A. Martin Perez is still well ahead of the curve; the question is if talent-wise he plateaued a long time ago. 2013 will be illuminating in that regard.
So, yeah, if we use our logic, the safe bet is that he starts the year headlining the rotation at AAA Round Rock. I’m not of the belief Texas is comfortable starting him in the big league rotation at the onset of the season. But whether it’s due to the failure of acquiring a more fitting 5th starter, or that I’m somehow disillusioned by how the Rangers view Martin Perez, there is certainly a scenario that he begins the season in the rotation for a couple months before Colby Lewis is ready to return to action. I just don’t think we should expect a dominant force, if that’s the case.
For what it’s worth, Bill James projects 12 starts (and 17 games) for Perez in 2013, totaling 106.0 innings with an ERA of 4.84. I think that’s probably a liberal projection in terms of how many innings he nets, and conservative in the ERA department. To get a year’s worth of experience from him, the Rangers would take a 4.84 ERA any day of the week. That’s why I don’t put too much credence in that prediction.
If you’re asking me, which I don’t know why you would, I’m expecting Martin Perez to start the season at AAA, and, like 2012, receive a handful of starts with the big squad near the latter stages of the regular season. In those starts, your guess is as good as mine, but I could see slightly better production than he gave in 2012, and if he’s better than he’s shown these last few years, get a chance to compete with Neftali Feliz for the 5th spot in the rotation come 2014.