GREENSBORO, N.C.—Had Rangers lefthander Martin Perez been born in the United States instead of Venezuela, he would likely be twiddling his thumbs right now, waiting for the Aug. 17 draft signing deadline to sign as a first-round draft pick.
Instead, the 18-year-old Perez made his Double-A debut last night for Frisco as the youngest player in the minors above Class A.
Sure, Tulsa completely pasted Perez, who left after surrendering seven runs (six earned) in 2 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits, one walk and striking out three.
But Perez is well ahead of schedule with the Rangers flooring the accelerator by skipping him over high Class A Bakersfield, promoting Perez from low Class A Hickory straight to Double-A.
In his final appearance for Hickory on Friday, Perez pitched one inning of relief, a scheduled bullpen outing designed to limit Perez’s innings, according to Crawdads manager Hector Ortiz.
Perez, who signed with the Rangers in 2007 as a high-profile 16-year-old prospect, sat with his fastball at 93-95 mph and touched 96. Perez showed a free-and-easy delivery, mixing in a curveball and a changeup. Perez left the league with a 2.31 ERA in 96 1/3 innings, averaging 10.1 strikeouts and 3.2 walks per nine innings.
“The kid has progressed,” Ortiz said. “He has the talent, he has the arm, but he has control. The way he carries himself on the mound and the strike zone, no matter what the count is, he never backs down. He always battles.
“It’s something that you don’t see often in an 18-year-old kid.”
Harnessing The Cal League
Just like the Rangers did last year with Neftali Feliz, their promotion of Perez from low Class A to Double-A allows the young lefty to avoid the pinball-machine environment of the high Class A California League.
Through Tuesday’s games, the Cal League has averaged 5.2 runs per nine innings, with a league ERA of 4.48. In the major leagues this year, teams are averaging 4.7 runs per nine innings and a 4.34 ERA.
Using runs allowed or ERA as a predictive metric for pitching prospects is flimsy enough as is, but the Cal League environment can obfuscate perceptions even further.
Mariners righthander J.C. Ramirez has a 5.26 ERA in 118 innings with High Desert, but his home park is among the most hellish in the minor leagues on pitchers. Ramirez, who turns 21 on Sunday, is still a good prospect, showing solid stuff while averaging 7.3 strikeouts and 3.2 walks per nine innings. Yet despite better K-BB numbers at home, his ERA on the road (3.60) is significantly better than his home ERA (6.35), as 13 of the 14 home runs he’s allowed this year have come in High Desert.
While the Rangers opted to skip Perez over their Bakersfield affiliate in the Cal League, there are a few prospects who have tamed the circuit:
1. Christian Friedrich, lhp, Rockies: Armed with one of the better curveballs in the minors, Friedrich opened the season with low Class A Asheville despite being a first-round pick from Eastern Kentucky. After breezing through the South Atlantic League, Friedrich managed to lower his season ERA to 1.71 by posting a 1.32 ERA in nine Cal League starts with Modesto, averaging 11.5 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings with the Nuts.
2. Alexander Torres, lhp, Angels: Torres was erratic with his control at times, but he left Rancho Cucamonga for Double-A Arkansas after holding down a 2.74 ERA in 121 1/3 innings, striking out 124. Torres, a 21-year-old from Venezuela, has a fastball that can reach the low-90s and a solid curveball.
3. Scott Barnes, lhp, Indians: Barnes made 18 starts for the Giants in San Jose before the Indians acquired him last month in exchange for Ryan Garko. Barnes, 21, left the Cal League with a 2.85 ERA, averaging 9.1 strikeouts and 2.7 walks per nine innings, though he doesn’t have a repertoire of plus pitches.
4. Wynn Pelzer, rhp, Padres: At 23, Pelzer is older than most of his fellow Cal League prospects, but the 2007 ninth-round pick from South Carolina has held steady with a 4.22 ERA for Lake Elsinore. His control still needs development, but with a low-90s fastball and a hard-breaking slider have helped him produce strikeouts and groundballs at an above-average clip.
5. Chris Withrow, rhp, Dodgers: Withrow’s 4.69 ERA is slightly north of the Cal League average, but he’s progressed quickly for a 20-year-old. A power-armed 2007 first-round pick, Withrow departed Inland Empire for Double-A Chattanooga with 105 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings, though with 45 walks his command is still far from big league ready.
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