Back in 2007, when Martin Perez signed with the Texas Rangers out of Venezuela for $580K, Jason Parks of Baseball Time in Arlington compared him to a cross between Johan Santana and Greg Maddux. “Baseball Time in Arlington” may sound like a late 2000s-era Blogspot site, but Parks himself went on to write at Baseball Prospectus before being hired as a scout for the Chicago Cubs. He’s currently the director of professional scouting for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Parks wasn’t alone in his praise for Perez, either. Using good movement and finesse, the lefty was in Double-A by age 18, where he was six years younger than the average pitcher. By 21 years old he was in the bigs, and he received votes for Rookie of the Year in 2013.
“Fair or not, there seemed to be only one apt comparison for the SAL’s (Class A) youngest pitcher: Johan Santana,” read Baseball America’s South Atlantic League writeup in 2008. “Everything from Perez’s frame to his delivery mimic Santana. What’s more, both are Venezuelan lefthanders who sit at 92-94 mph and touch 96 with their fastballs.”
But he plateaued in the four years that followed, settling in with a 4.56 ERA. His 100 ERA+ average over that time indicated that he was a league-average pitcher. Johan Santana he was not, and he was released by Texas last year after posting a 6.22 ERA in his age-27 season.
With a 4.60 ERA (99 ERA+) entering Sunday’s start he’s been largely the same pitcher he was from 2014-18. League average. In fact, while he had a 3.15 ERA in May, he’s posted a 5-plus ERA in the last three months. But for a team without much young, homegrown starting pitching outside of Jose Berrios, they’ve needed his starts.
And more pertinently, unless the Minnesota Twins can fill out their rotation with the likes of Brusdar Graterol, Kohl Stewart and Stephen Gonsalves next season, they’re going to need to look outside the organization for help.
Perez has pitched well in his last three starts, however, giving up only five earned runs in 17 innings. The Twins have told him not to hold back, knowing that his off-speed pitches play off his velocity.
“Wes talked to him about it and kind of basically said give us the best of what you’ve got,” Rocco Baldelli said, referring to pitching coach Wes Johnson. “To one extent or another, the velocity helps. It’s not even just the velocity on the fastball, it’s the velocity of the offspeed pitches too, and when you do see some guys tick up, you get significantly better results.”
The cut fastball was a revelation for Perez early in the season, and he’s been using the backdoor cutter more effectively recently.
“It’s something that kind of gets him back to normal,” said catcher Mitch Garver after Minnesota’s 7-4 win over the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. “Sometimes his cutter will get a little too big and become slider-ish and it doesn’t have the same action and deception. When he goes to that side of the plate it opens up more options for us as well.”
“I feel better when I use both sides of the plate with my cutter,” said Perez, who gave up only two earned runs in six innings. “If they don’t show me that they can hit that pitch, I’m going to continue to throw it. I think everything was good and we hit the ball good and we won.”
He’s also had success with the inside fastball.
“It plays well,” said Garver. “He was able to locate his glove-side fastball today a lot better than we have in the past. We had a few strikes looking on fastballs inside and that opens up a lot of options. You can go back to the cutter away off the plate.”
Perez says he prefers to locate his fastball earlier in games at a lower velocity and work outside, then pitch inside at a higher velocity more often later on.
“Sometimes, I think that I throw inside too much and they go for balls,” he says. “I like to go outside and to have that feeling and to come back again inside and throw more for effect inside.”
There will be an outcry for a big-name free agent pitcher this offseason, and while spending money to solidify the rotation is a reasonable ask, it’s far from a guarantee that it will work. For example, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke have pitched well since signing their megadeals, but Yu Darvish has not and David Price has offered mixed results.
Dealing for other team’s one-time prospects, hoping that a change of scenery will allow them to reach their potential, is a viable alternative. The Cleveland Indians built their rotation with players they traded for. Jake Arrieta became an All-Star with the Chicago Cubs after their trade with the Baltimore Orioles. The Houston Astros took this approach at the deadline by dealing for Aaron Sanchez.
Even if Perez isn’t in the Twins plans as a starter next year, he could become a valuable addition to a bullpen that lacks lefties at the very least. He signed a one-year, $4 million deal this season and has a $7.5 million team option for next year.
Either way, he’s a starter in his prime who can give the Twins innings. And while the hope is that the next player seeking a change of scenery they get will become an ace, Perez has been part of a rotation that can hold its own while the Bombas continue their torrid offensive pace.