Name: David Perez
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: December 20, 1992 (20)
Acquired: 2009 International Free Agent, Dominican Republic
Over the last two seasons, no prospect in the Texas Rangers' system has seen his status fluctuate more than David Perez. Perhaps the organization's most promising young arm as recent as June 2011, the right-hander has posted an ERA north of 9.00 since then, and he's now rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
Perez was a product of keen scouting by the Rangers. As an amateur in the Dominican Republic, the 6-foot-5, 200-pound Perez was initially considered among the top arms in his 2009 international signing class––a potential seven-figure bonus player. But he went through a dead arm period at the absolute worst time, throwing just mid-80s in workouts as the July 2 signing period approached.
Many teams began to fear an arm injury and subsequently backed off Perez. The hurler eventually pulled through, and when his velocity returned, the Rangers signed him for a $425,000 bonus––still quite steep, but a bargain given his phenomenal raw talent.
Perez impressed from the outset in pro ball, posting dominant numbers with the DSL Rangers in 2010 that included only eight walks (with 68 strikeouts) in 70 innings while featuring an 89-91 mph fastball. The projection of his body, overall future stuff, and advanced command made him one of the system's most exciting arms.
Perez took a big leap forward at extended spring training in 2011, showing that same ability to attack the lower half of the strike zone––but this time with much-improved velocity. He began sitting between 92-96 mph with his fastball, touching up to 98. While his changeup was raw and underdeveloped, he mixed in a mature––and future plus––mid-to-upper 70s curveball.
Coming off his fantastic extended spring performance, expectations were understandably high when Perez was assigned to short-season Spokane in June 2011. In his first start with the Indians, he allowed four runs but fanned eight batters in three innings. The next time out, he struck out six in five innings of two-run ball. But it was (mostly) downhill from there.
The prospect scuffled through the remainder of the summer, struggling to throw strikes and eventually being demoted to the bullpen after failing to record an out twice in three starts. Though his velocity and overall stuff remained in-tact, Perez was suddenly having difficulty repeating his delivery, issuing 29 walks (with eight hit batters) in 30.1 innings.
Given his rapid (and surprising) decline in late 2011, Perez entered camp last spring as one of the more intriguing minor league players to watch. The Jekyll-and-Hyde campaign raised two big questions: Would he rebound? Would he still have mechanical issues?
Unfortunately for the Rangers, the latter was true. Perez had trouble finding the strike zone throughout the spring and was working at just 85-91 mph. The club had no choice but to hold him back in extended spring training, looking to remedy the mechanical problems.
Although Perez was struggling with his mechanics on the surface, Rangers minor league field coordinator Jayce Tingler believes the root issue was much more mental than physical.
"I think the biggest thing with David is continuing to build confidence," Tingler said near the conclusion of camp last year. "Confidence like we've seen in the past. For whatever reason, he got off his game and got off his rhythm in Spokane. And he has got to learn from that.
"He has got to learn where to go when his mechanics break down. That's probably on the mental side. That's probably on the confidence. He has to rely on his ability, his techniques, and all those things that come with that."
The confidence didn't appear to return at extended spring. While his fastball was up to 93 mph––though sitting more in the upper-80s––he was having the same trouble repeating his delivery and commanding his arsenal. Simply put, Perez wasn't throwing strikes, and some of those balls were reaching the backstop.
When the short-season leagues kicked off in mid-June, Perez went back to Spokane. But the results still didn't improve. Through three appearances with the Indians in 2012, the right-hander had coughed up 13 runs on 12 hits in nine innings, walking 11, plunking one, and unleashing seven wild pitches.
Perez's final appearance with Spokane––on June 28––saw him surrender nine runs on seven hits in three innings. He walked three with four wild pitches.
The Rangers shut Perez down after that outing. One month later, he underwent Tommy John surgery.
Given the timing of the surgery, it'd be easy to suggest that many of Perez's struggles were a product of his ailing elbow. But Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark says the injury didn't play a major role; he, like Tingler, believes most of Perez's issues are mental.
"I thought (2011) was more mental," Clark said. "I didn't really see the physical side coming. He was starting to make slow progress. He had a rough extended. We tried to back him down from his velocity and really concentrate on commanding the baseball.
"I thought we were on the right track, and then obviously it's unfortunate for David and the organization because I did think he was making some small steps going in the right direction."
Now, Perez will spend the vast majority of his next calendar year at the Rangers' minor league complex in Surprise, Ariz., rehabbing his elbow. Although he won't be pitching, this will no-doubt be a critical period for his development.
As Rangers rehab pitching coordinator Keith Comstock stated in an interview last spring, the club's rehab crew aims to use the down time to transform and develop players mentally––and that's something that could seriously benefit Perez when he steps on the mound again.
Perez turned 20-years-old in December; it's far too soon to write him off. He's flashed standout raw talent to go along with polish at times, but that seems a distant memory given his struggles over the last year and a half. When he returns to game action, he'll have to show the ability to recover and adjust––and he'll have to prove he can return to being the hurler who works at 92-96 mph with command.
Also See: Wrapping Rangers Minor League Camp (April 2, 2012)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Jayce Tingler (April 4, 2012)
David Perez: Underwent Tommy John surgery (August 3, 2012)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Danny Clark (August 31, 2012)
Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Changeup.
Fastball: It may be slightly harsh to call Perez's control problems "the yips," but given the mental root of the issue, it certainly appears to be a form of that. A player who once showed superb control and command for his age, Perez was able to coordinate and repeat a relatively simple delivery despite his long-limbed 6-foot-5 frame.
Perez began falling out of his mechanics with Spokane in 2011, and he hasn't been able to fully adjust since. The problems remained––and perhaps were even more exaggerated––in spring training last year, continuing through extended spring. As things progressed, Perez's fastballs began finding the backstop with more regularity.
As I wrote last April: "There are times within outings when Perez is getting on top of the ball and staying within his mechanics. When he does that, he locates down in the zone at 89-91 mph with a good curveball. But he's often flying open and getting on the side of everything, and that's when he works mostly between 85-88 and is wild, missing to the armside."
At his best during extended spring in 2011, the then 18-year-old Perez had everything a scout looks for in a young pitcher's fastball. He displayed a loose arm with easy plus velocity, sitting between 92-96 mph and topping out at 97-98 on occasion. He was getting on top of the ball with regularity at the time, pounding the lower half of the strike zone and providing a steep downward plane from his 6-foot-5 frame. His fastball was a future 70-grade offering, and the full package was much more advanced than most pitchers his age.
That's what Perez's fastball was. During the course of last season, he was having the aforementioned mechanical issues and working anywhere between 85-93 mph depending on the pitch. One fastball could be 92 mph and well located; the next could be 86 and to the backstop––highlighting the difficulty he was having repeating his delivery with any consistency.
Other Pitches: Although Perez's curveball has also suffered due to his mechanical/mental issues, it took a backseat to his fastball last season; he began relying more heavily on the fastball while attempting to iron out his mechanics. The 20-year-old has shown the ability to spin a quality breaking ball. In early 2011, his curveball was a mature pitch, clocking in the mid-to-upper 70s with tight spin, sharp break, and good depth––a definite future plus pitch. While the curve still has good shape at times (when he gets on top), it was soft and loopy last season, as he threw it with less arm speed and conviction. His changeup was an underdeveloped and rarely used third pitch prior to last season; if his curve was in the backseat in 2012, his change was in the trunk.
Projection: It's really anybody's guess at this point. Perez has shown the type of raw talent that's in his arm; whether he's able to recover physically and mentally, rediscover that stuff, and re-harness his arsenal is the million-dollar question. When Perez was at his best in early 2011, he flashed top-of-the-rotation potential with a future plus-plus fastball, swing-and-miss breaking ball, and an advanced feel for pitching. But if Perez isn't able to remedy his issues at least somewhat upon returning, he may never see a full-season affiliate, let alone the upper levels. There's two directions Perez can go when he's back on the mound; it's safe to say everyone is looking forward to seeing which version comes out.
2013 Outlook: Rehabbing at the Rangers' minor league complex in Arizona. After undergoing Tommy John surgery around late July/early August, there's an ever-so-slight chance that Perez will make a couple late complex-league appearances if his rehab process is free of setbacks. But the safer bet is that he'll make a return to action at fall instructs in 2013 with an eye on being at full-strength for 2014 spring training.
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