Detroit Tigers prospect Franklin Perez finally ready to prove himself
Detroit Tigers pitching prospect Franklin Perez is getting his most experience in years.
Once classified as the organization's No. 1 prospect, the right-hander hasn't played much since coming to the franchise as the gem of the Justin Verlander trade with the Houston Astros in 2017.
Since the blockbuster deal, Perez has pitched in nine games and 27 innings because of injuries. Meanwhile, Verlander won a World Series in Houston and the Tigers drafted new up-and-coming pitchers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, pushing Perez down the organizational depth chart.
Perez is finally healthy, however. He's in Comerica Park — where he has dreamt of pitching — for summer camp in preparation for the upcoming season, which begins July 24 at Cincinnati. The 22-year-old made the 60-player squad and thinks he's ready to pitch during the shortened season.
"I really, really want pretty bad that to happen," Perez said through a translator. "I want to be back on this mound. Opportunities are out there, just got to work hard and do my best to take advantage of whichever opportunity."
Perez will take whatever he can get. That's the mindset of a pitcher who has slipped out of the MLB's top-100 prospect list, fallen to No. 12 within the organization and is yearning to stay in shape.
Because of injuries, Perez nearly drove himself off the map. He is rarely included among the rising pitchers in the system: Mize, Skubal and Matt Manning, Alex Faedo, Joey Wentz and Beau Burrows seem to get more attention. Even Bryan Garcia is creeping up the food chain.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander was sent to Double-A Erie after the Verlander trade but didn't play. A lingering right lat strain appeared in 2018, limiting Perez to seven games and 19⅓ innings between the Gulf Coast Tigers and High-A Lakeland.
And in 2019? Just two games and 7⅔ innings in Lakeland due to right shoulder issues.
The injuries — a lat strain, shoulder inflammation, shoulder tendinitis and stomach pain — seem endless, even as Perez looks forward to staying healthy for the remainder of his career, which he believes still has plenty of promise.
"The origins, we don't know it," Perez said of the injuries. "But I'm working on every side of my body to get stronger, to get healthy and stay healthy. So far, we're seeing the results of all the hard work I'm doing."
Perez, who started throwing again in November and tossed 2⅓ innings in three spring training games, came to Comerica Park for training camp and made his intrasquad debut July 10.
He walked Harold Castro, got Derek Hill to ground into a 5-4-3 double play and forced Christin Stewart to fly out to end the inning. Perez got another chance in the top of the sixth Monday, allowing two runs on four hits and one walk across two innings. He didn't record a strikeout.
On his second pitch, Frank Schwindel took him deep to left field on a breaking ball. Later in the sixth, Riley Greene knocked a two-run single. Perez's top of the seventh, however, was more efficient — outside of Brady Policelli's double to the left field wall.
He continues to struggle with his command. But as Perez will tell you, the body and soul grow with experience. Without much of that lately, he has learned to be patient, lean on his faith and work hard in every opportunity, whether it's a bullpen session, live batting practice or intrasquad scrimmages.
Now he's finally ready to prove himself.
"I'm working hard to obviously learn as much as I can from all the pitchers that are around here on the big-league roster and take advantage of every single aspect I can learn from them," Perez said.
"I would like to see myself stay healthy so everybody can see the results."
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.