BUIES CREEK, N.C.—It’s easy to see how righthander Franklin Perez would fit right in on a college campus. He’s 19 years old, athletic, and struggling to grow facial hair of any sort. Like any other successful college athlete, fans clamber for his autographs and selfies.
Of course, having $1 million in the bank and the ability to throw a baseball 94 miles per hour might separate him from the rest of the students roaming around Jim Perry Stadium, on the Campbell campus where he and the rest of the Buies Creek Astros call home.
Perez, the Astros’ No. 4 prospect and No. 54 on this year’s Top 100 Prospects list, made his high Class A debut on Sunday afternoon and was dominant from start to finish. He allowed only one hit—a single—and three walks over 5.1 innings while striking out five against the Winston-Salem Dash.
“For his age, he’s very ahead of a lot of guys,” said Buies Creek manager Omar Lopez, who had Perez last year at low Class A Quad Cities as well. “In our system he’s one of the top guys. People don’t realize that this kid has been pitching only two and a half years.”
Perez, a Venezuelan, had trained at Carlos Guillen’s academy as a third baseman before signing with the Astros in 2014. His velocity on the mound makes it easy to believe he had the arm for the position. He’d pitched some as a kid, so it wasn’t a complete conversion, but he also wasn’t as experienced as other pitchers who’d signed during the same period, such as Padres righthander Anderson Espinoza.
He’s caught up quickly enough, however, to have landed in high Class A after just two full seasons. He struck out 75 in 66.2 innings last season with Quad Cities, where he was among the youngest players. This year, he checks in as the second-youngest player in the Carolina League, behind only Salem righthander Roniel Raudes.
Perez spent the early portion of his outing on Sunday working to develop his slider, a low-80s offering that was inconsistent but showed flashes of late bite. He didn’t mix in his curveball, a 12-to-6 breaker thrown in the 75-80 mph range, until the later stages of his start.
The slider is Perez’s newest pitch—he didn’t throw it before signing—but the Astros’ analytics team believes that it’s the breaking ball that best fits his body.
“That’s by design,” Lopez said. “According to his body, his delivery and his (optimal) arm angle, (the slider) is a quality pitch to have that’s going to help him get to the big leagues. It’s one of his out pitches, besides the plus fastball, and eventually if he needs to incorporate a new pitch for his repertoire, it probably would be the curveball.”
Even now, the curveball is a pretty nice weapon to have. In one sequence against Winston-Salem’s Aaron Schnurbusch, Perez opened with a 75 mph curve for a called strike, followed with a 78 mph version buried for a swing-and-miss, and closed the at-bat by getting a swinging strikeout on an elevated 94 mph fastball.
Only his fastball, thrown between 92-94 until the last few hitters, was consistent all day long. But his three other pitches each showed enough promise to make it abundantly clear why Perez is held in such high regard.