It would have required a calamitous first season in the U.S. by Cionel Perez for the Astros to even consider leaving the 21-year-old Cuban lefthander exposed to the Rule 5 draft.
Because the Astros voided Perez’s original contract with the club in October 2016, only to re-sign him to a reworked deal that December, he instantly became eligible for the 2017 Rule 5 draft if not added to the 40-man roster. That’s exactly what Houston did on Nov. 20.
Perez’s addition to the 40-man roster came on the heels of a solid first season in which he began the year in extended spring training and ended it at Double-A Corpus Christi.
“Well, first of all, he was healthy all year. His velocity was great. His performance was good,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “We moved him up a couple of levels and he was able to handle that pretty well.
“It’s still unclear what path he’s going to be on—reliever versus starter. He can do both. We might keep him going as a starter, but we need a lefthanded reliever, so it could be a good fit for us.”
The Astros invested $4 million to sign Perez last year, signing him for $2 million and incurring a $2 million penalty because they had previously overspent their international bonus pool. They reduced Perez’s bonus offer from $5.15 million after they determined there was an issue with his elbow. The southpaw voiced his frustration with the signing process after his revised deal became official.
Perez, who pitches in the low to mid-90s and complements his fastball with a curveball, slider and changeup, pitched 93.2 innings in 21 outings (16 starts) at three levels in 2017. Overall he recorded a 4.13 ERA with 83 strikeouts against 27 walks.
The Astros promoted Perez to Double-A toward the end of the season at the same time they bumped righthander Forrest Whitley to Corpus Christi. Perez pitched just 13 innings in the Texas League and recorded a 5.54 ERA. He should begin 2018 back in the same Double-A rotation as Whitley.