We will never be able to predict with 100% certainty where a prospect will end up when he’s in the adolescent stages of the Minor Leagues. Yes, there are some prospects who seem like more of a sure-thing than others (Bryce Harper comes to mind), but when we, as fans, investigate players in the lower levels of the farm, we are generally limited to black-and-white box scores and sometimes terse scouting reports. It’s like mentally painting a picture of a player based half on concrete information (stats), the other half on scouting. The separation between what we assume to be true and what’s actually true creates a bubble of mystery in our minds — and everyone loves a good mystery, which is why everyone loves a good prospect.
I had to go back and look this up, but in high school I remember stumbling across a blurb on one of Jamey Newberg’s articles:
The Rangers have signed Venezuelan lefthander Martin Perez ($580,000), Dominican shortstop Wilson Suero ($558,000), Venezuelan shortstop Tomas Telis ($140,000), and Venezuelan outfielder Edward Ceballo ($105,000). According to Baseball America, the 16-year-old Perez was considered the top lefty on the international market this year.
As it stands, Perez is pitching like 22 year-old money with the big league squad; Tomas Telis is in Double-A, though considered as more of an organizational guy; Wilson Suero and Edward Ceballo are either out of baseball or they had their names changed.
From the point Newberg made the mention, I was smitten: I knew Martin Perez would have a gold star on his forehead as I followed him through the Minor League circuit, and I knew that meant he could only end up as one of two things — a success or a disappointment. There’s rarely a middle-ground with high-ceiling prospects.
Perez’s inception into the Minor Leagues came in 2008, pitching as a 17 year-old for the Rangers’ short-season affiliate in Spokane, Washington. Facing competition 5 and 6 years older than himself, Perez held his own, sporting a 3.65 ERA in 61.2 IP. Due to age and level and early success, he was on the national map.
In no time, he was drawing liberal comparisons to baseball’s best left-handed pitcher of the time — Johan Santana — due to his smooth, easily-repeatable mechanics, and devastating fastball/change-up mix.
His age-20 season was supposed to be his moving year. Coming off being rated as Baseball America’s #17 prospect in 2010, he went into 2011 at #24, right behind 1B Brandon Belt, and in front of 3B Lonnie Chisenhall. He pitched effectively enough (3.16 ERA in 88.0 IP) in Double-A to earn a promotion to Round Rock, where his ERA ballooned by more than double (6.43).
By 2012, Martin Perez had lost a significant amount of buzz, because people can only talk so much about a player being younger than the hitters he’s facing; eventually the prospect needs to show something. Perez is a rare case study — which is why every individual needs to be treated independently — because he’s one of those players that lowered in prospect ranking the further he moved up through the system.
Generally the closer players get to the Major Leagues, they become more and more of a sure thing, and thus safer to project. The mystery of Perez as a 16 year-old generated the perception that he was going to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher one day. The last six years have exposed the cracks we’ve taken the liberty of filling in ourselves — with whatever we have chosen to think — and now the mystery is gone. Martin Perez is who he is.
Now that he’s in the Major Leagues, it’s hard to fathom that he’s still only 22 years old. Like when he was 17, or 19, or 21, he is still facing hitters much older than himself.