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Cionel Perez Offers Astros Options In 2019 And Beyond

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Within the Astros' front office, there is considerable disagreement surrounding how Cionel Perez projects at the major league level.

Standing at a slender, 5-foot-11 and weighing just 170 pounds, the 22-year-old Perez is almost pigeon-holed into a role as a lefthanded reliever. He made his major league debut in 2018 out of the Houston bullpen, striking out 12 in 11.1 innings.

Still, some in the organization—namely general manager Jeff Luhnow—view Perez as a starting pitcher. Eleven of his 16 appearances at Double-A Corpus Christi last season were starts. It was only after his first major league callup, when the Astros sent him back down to Triple-A, that he pitched from a minor league bullpen.

“He throws 97 mph, and he has good stuff,” Luhnow said during the Winter Meetings. “He's demonstrated he can last six or seven innings, so I certainly don't want to give up on that option too soon."

To begin spring training, the Astros will stretch Perez as a starter before making their ultimate determination on his 2019 fate. Wherever he lands, either as a rotation candidate or in the bullpen, the Cuban lefthander seems set to impact the major league roster from the onset of the regular season.

The departure of Tony Sipp to free agency leaves Houston with an returning bullpen of all righthanders. At the Winter Meetings, Luhnow said acquiring a lefthanded reliever was “not at the top” of the club’s wish list—ostensibly a vote of confidence for Perez or Framber Valdez, the only two lefthanded pitchers on Houston’s 40-man roster.

Because Valdez emerged as a starter during his first major league stint last year, and with the Astros’ current holes in the back of their rotation, Perez is the most viable 40-man roster option to break the monotony.

Though the sample size is miniscule, Perez found major league success with his third pitch—a changeup—to complement the mid-90s fastball and hard slider for which he is so acclaimed.

Instilling confidence with the pitch was crucial. So, too, was being exposed to the preparations and routines of a major league reliever. Whether he begins a critical rookie major league campaign as one remains to be seen.

“He may make our big league club as a lefthanded reliever. He may go to Triple-A and start," Luhnow said. "We haven't made that decision yet."

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