Three years after Verlander trade, Detroit Tigers believe patience with Franklin Perez will pay off
That alone is a positive sign.
Since coming to the Tigers in 2017 as the top-rated Houston Astros prospect in the Justin Verlander deal, Perez has pitched just 27 innings.
A right lat strain in March 2018 kept him from pitching until June. Shoulder inflammation shut him down after seven starts and a 6.52 ERA. In 2019, right shoulder tendinitis caused him to make two starts. He had a 2.35 ERA with nine strikeouts in 7⅔ innings for High-A Lakeland.
Perez, 22, hasn't thrown in a regular-season game since then. But nowadays, his lack of experience has less to do with his body and more with the COVID-19 pandemic, which prematurely ended spring training and canceled the 2020 minor-league season. He spent July in summer camp, followed by August and September at the alternate training site in Toledo.
"We've really kind of looked at it where, with the timing of things, it wasn't a scenario that we saw him competing for a job in Detroit at this point," Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield said. "We're kind of shooting for moving forward to get him ready to be as healthy as possible in spring training."
Because Perez is on the Tigers' 40-man roster, he is not eligible to partake in the instructional league in Lakeland, Florida, with other top prospects. He will go through offseason training on his own time before rejoining the team for spring training.
In three 2020 spring training games, Perez gave up five runs on five hits and two walks with one strikeout in 2⅓ innings. Had the minor-league season been played, Perez would have only needed a few successful starts in High-A before a quick promotion to Double-A Erie.
He tossed 32 innings for Double-A Corpus Christi in 2017 for the Astros, registering a 3.09 ERA with 25 strikeouts and 11 walks, so it would've made sense for the Tigers to send him to Erie for a majority of the year. But the pandemic nixed those plans.
"I really, really want pretty bad that to happen," Perez said in July. "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."
Despite being on the 40-man roster, Littlefield said Perez wasn't considered for a call-up to the majors this season as a starter or reliever. He showed plenty of potential in summer camp, but his fastball was stuck in the low-90s and his command failed him at times. Still, there were still moments when Perez gave reminders of why he was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the team's No. 3 prospect in 2018, behind Casey Mize and Matt Manning.
He is now the No. 14 prospect, sixth among starting pitchers Mize, Manning, Tarik Skubal, Joey Wentz and Alex Faedo.
The organization still believes his potential is going to be unleashed.
"We feel very confident there's a future here for Franklin," Littlefield said. "When healthy, he's very talented. He obviously had really strong performances in the past. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to get him out there as healthy for a long time."