Baseball America is pleased to present Cape Cod League video this summer courtesy of OnDeck Digital, an exciting new company founded by former Southern California star and major leaguer Randy Flores. OnDeck is filming Cape League games in high definition from multiple camera angles, allowing customers to watch at-bats in a split screen that shows every pitch from behind the plate and from the side, alongside a panel displaying the game situation and pitch velocity. Customers can watch entire condensed games, or choose to only view clips of a particular player. For more information, visit OnDeckDigital.com.
Before Ryan, the only Perez son, turned 3 years old, the question of arm dominance—something most don’t think of as a question or even a choice but a predisposed conclusion—had been decided by his father, Juan.
“He never got a natural lefty,” Ryan, now 20, said of his dad. “So with me being the last hope he sort of made me into a lefty.”
Juan had no problem with any of his kids spending time by that pond, skipping one flat stone after another across the water’s surface, but he made sure Ryan was going to do it with his left arm.
Eventually, Juan allowed Ryan to begin throwing with his right, but always in addition to the left, never instead of it.
When the time came for the youngest Perez to play organized baseball, it was more of the same. What was an oddity to other parents and players was just the way Ryan had always done it. Others looked, judged, and even dropped their jaws when they saw him switch between throwing arms, but Perez just went about business as usual.
Now, more than 16 years after Juan first made Ryan switch hands behind the house, it’s paying off.
In the winter before Ryan’s senior high school season, he had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Instead of Perez having to shut down all baseball activities, as 99 percent of American ballplayers would after surgery, he concentrated and improved on his left side.
“I think because I didn’t have to focus on (being) righthanded, I could just focus on my mechanics from the left side,” Perez said. “Instead of doing a 50-50 job, I could just focus 100 percent on the left side. I didn’t have to worry about both arms at the same time. It was easier.”
His freshman year at NAIA Judson University, which sits just 10 minutes down the road from Perez’s Hampshire home, he logged 65 innings, all from the left side.
“Kind of by default he was getting a lot of reps from the left side,” said Rich Benjamin, head coach of the Judson Eagles. “He was putting on weight, he was cleaning up some things mechanically and the velo continued to jump.”
Now a rising junior at Judson, the 6-foot Perez went from being a good high school pitcher with both arms—a unique story in its own right—to a legitimate prospect from the left side. His fastball has reached 94 mph and he has the ability to control his curveball and changeup in any count.
“I think this is one of those special small college guys that you could really use,” said Chad Gassman, manager of the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, Perez’s Cape Cod League team. “As a lefthander he’s definitely a prospect. As a righthander he can help you, but as a lefthander I feel like he is a definite pro prospect.
“He’s dominant left-on-left. He’s striking lefthanders out like it’s his job.”
Now, Perez is focused on making similar progressions to his right side. Without the ability to work exclusively on one side, as the injury time provided him, he must manage staying sharp from the left while improving on the right.
“I’d say to the naked eye my mechanics probably look pretty similar (from both sides),” said Perez, who uses a six-fingered glove for when he switches arms mid-inning. “But I know from the left side I turn more in my body, my leg kick is higher. I’m looser on the left side.
“And then on the right side my kick is a little bit shorter. Sometimes I short-arm the ball righthanded. I don’t have a full, long arm circle. I want to be more loose.”
Should his right side take the same progressions as his left did, the opportunities may be plentiful. More than just a matchup nightmare for opposing teams, switch-pitchers offer an extra arm on the staff, often a priceless commodity to coaches. Former Creighton All-American Pat Venditte is the most notable switch-pitcher in recent years, and he has reached Triple-A with the Yankees.
This past season as Judson’s ace and his first full year back throwing from the right side, Perez started Friday nights as a lefty, often going seven or more innings. By Wednesday, the righthanded Perez was making relief appearances, offering up to three innings out of the bullpen.
Just once during his sophomore season he threw with both arms in the same game, offering five innings from the right side at 88-90 before coming in lefthanded for the sixth and seventh frames, topping out at 94.
“If he wasn’t a great person and a great teammate, I think our pitching staff would probably hate him,” Benjamin said. “He’s eating up an extra 30 or 40 innings a year, comfortably. I have someone else that could be throwing some innings. But he’s a great teammate and he works hard and has the respect of everyone on the team including the coaching staff.”
This summer at the Cape, his role is a little different. Gassman uses him exclusively out of the bullpen, and allows the situation to determine what side he will throw from.
In 19 innings for the Harbor Hawks from both the left and right side (Cape League stats don’t differentiate between pitching arm) Perez has struck out 28 batters and has posted a 2.36 ERA.
While the pitching arm is only taking on the wear of however many pitches it throws per outing, Perez’s back, legs and core are working on every pitch, no matter which arm is responsible for dealing strikes.
“I feel more wear and tear on my body in general when I go both ways versus starting just lefthanded or starting just righthanded, just because one way you’re tightening the muscle and then I switch and I’m stretching the muscle,” Perez said. “It’s more pulling and tugging than just staying on one side.”
For the rest of the summer in the Cape, Perez is working on getting that right arm up in the 90s to cause nightmares from as many angles as possible. But even if that progress does not come, he will not regret learning to skip those pebbles with his left hand.
“The fact that he can throw both hands is just a plus. If you have 13 arms you really have 14 arms,” Gassman said. “I mean, he’s ambidextrous. The fact that he can break glass with his opposite hand is pretty cool.”