Next Year's Eury Perez? 10 Sleeper Pitching Prospects To Watch
The breakout pitcher of 2021 was Eury Perez.
Perez signed with the Marlins out of the Dominican Republic two years ago for $200,000. He was 6-foot-5, 155 pounds with a mid-80s fastball when teams were scouting him the previous summer, then added 30 pounds to get up to 92 mph after signing by the end of 2019.
The pandemic wiped out what likely would have been the pro debut for Perez in the Dominican Summer League in 2020, but we pegged him as the sleeper in the Marlins' system in the Prospect Handbook coming into the year and he broke out in a big way in 2021. Perez debuted in 2021 in Low-A Jupiter, finished in High-A Beloit and is now Miami's No. 1 prospect as an 18-year-old.
Perez had an unusually rapid ascent thanks to his combination of stuff and polish. There are other pitchers who are much more raw in the DSL but who have either the present stuff or future projection worth monitoring, even if their performance is uninspiring. Righthander Frankie Montas was like that in the DSL, a league he spent two years in and left with a 7.60 ERA in 34.1 innings, 30 walks and 30 strikeouts despite a fastball that reached 100 mph.
So who's the 2022 version of Perez, a pitcher coming over to the United States in 2022 who could have a breakout season? These are 10 sleeper pitching prospects to watch coming out of the DSL who are under the radar now but could make bigger names for themselves next year.
1. Bryan Perez, RHP, Rockies
A nephew of Edinson Volquez, Perez was Colorado's top international signing when the 2020-21 period opened on Jan. 15, landing a $750,000 bonus out of the Dominican Republic. Perez, who turned 18 in September, posted a 2.78 ERA with 35 strikeouts and 10 walks in 32.1 innings, with an exciting mix of stuff, pitchabilty and encouraging projection indicators. He has a lean, lanky 6-foot-3 frame, with a fastball that continues to climb. He went from throwing in the low-90s early in 2020 to reaching 95 mph in the spring. Now he's sitting in the mid-90s, dialing it up to 98 mph, delivering the ball from smooth mechanics, easy arm action and fast arm speed, with a chance he could throw 100 mph. Perez has both power and feel, throwing plenty of strikes and spinning a curveball with tight rotation that shows plus potential. He shows some feel for a changeup, though it's a third pitch that needs to most development.
2. Jordy Vargas, RHP, Rockies
If you're looking for the next Eury Perez type of breakout pitcher, the Rockies have the two strongest candidates in the DSL between Bryan Perez and Vargas. Signed for $500,000 out of the Dominican Republic, Vargas is the son of lefthander Yorkis Perez, a former big league reliever for nine seasons in the 1990s. Vargas, who turned 18 in November, held down a 1.30 ERA in 34.2 innings and punched out 32% of the batters he faced with 46 strikeouts and 16 walks. Vargas is built in a similar mold to Bryan Perez, with a gangly 6-foot-3 frame, a trending-up fastball, good delivery and ability to manipulate his secondaries. His fastball took a jump after signing to touch 93 mph and continues to climb higher, now sitting around 92-95 mph and touching 97. He has a big swing-and-miss pitch in his curveball, which has both tight spin (often in the 2,800 to 2,900 rpm range) and good depth to project as a plus pitch. Vargas also shows feel for a mid-80s changeup that gives him a legitimate three-pitch mix and starter profile between his repertoire, mechanics and solid strike-throwing skills for his age.
3. Joel Diaz, RHP, Mets
Maybe the sleeper tag doesn't fit any more for Diaz. He signed out of the Dominican Republic in January, and while he wasn't the biggest bonus signing, we tabbed him as the club's top player from a class where the Mets spread the money around. He showed why in the DSL, where he had a 63-9 K-BB mark in 50.1 innings with a league-leading 0.54 ERA. Now Diaz is the Mets' No. 9 prospect, ranked behind only righthanders Matt Allan and J.T. Ginn among pitchers in the system. Diaz is polished for a 17-year-old, with advanced strike-throwing ability coming from a sound delivery. There's still some more projection left in his 6-foot-2 frame to add to a fastball that sits in the low-90s and has reached the mid-90s. It's a starter mix with feel for both his curveball and changeup that show average or better potential.
4. Joaquin Tejada, RHP, Pirates
The Mariners signed Tejada for $200,00 out of Panama when he turned 16 on July 16, 2019. Before signing, Tejada was mostly throwing in the mid-80s, but he was a good athlete with solid strike-throwing ability from a high-energy delivery. During Dominican instructional league in 2019, Tejada's velocity jumped to touch 93 mph. With the 2020 minor league season cancelled, Tejada made his official debut in 2021. After two starts, the Pirates acquired him and catcher Carter Bins in the trade for lefthander Tyler Anderson. That could end up being sneaky value for the Pirates. Tejada, who finished with a 4.40 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 17 walks in 28.2 innings, isn't overpowering but he manipulates his secondary stuff well. He pitches at 89-92 mph, touching 95 with good armside run. His hard curveball flashes above-average potential and he mixes in an effective changeup he shows feel for as well, giving him the makings of three solid pitches to project as a starter.
5. Yoniel Curet, RHP, Rays
Curet signed with the Rays for $150,000 in 2019 and showed a power arm that year, already reaching 95 mph. Curet, who turned 19 in November, made his pro this year in the DSL with a 3.71 ERA in 51 innings, 63 strikeouts and 27 walks. He has a strong build with a fastball that explodes out of his hand, sitting at 92-95 mph and touching 98 with good life. Curet can also miss bats with a curveball that has good rotation and depth, as well as a lively changeup. Curet has bat-missing stuff, though his command isn't as advanced as the players ahead of him.
6. Nelvis Ochoa, RHP, Rockies
Colorado's young Latin American pitchers tend to be prolific strike-throwers, with Ochoa perhaps the most advanced among them in terms of his control. Ochoa, an 18-year-old signed out of Venezuela in 2019, walked just three of the 79 batters he faced (3.8%) in the DSL, registering a 3.79 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 19 innings. At 5-foot-10, Ochoa isn't that big, but for his age he has outstanding control of his lively fastball, which sits around the low-90s and gets up to 93. Squeezing out a few more ticks of velocity will be important for Ochoa, who might have the arm speed to do so, has an innate feel to spin the ball. He's still refining his curveball, but he throws it with some power in the upper-70s to low-80s and with spin rates that crack 3,000 rpm. He also has confidence in a changeup that can come in firm off his fastball but flashes good sink and fade.
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7. Roelmy Garcia, RHP, Pirates
Garcia fits more into the Frankie Montas category, a flamethrower who doesn't yet know where the ball is going. He had 11.7 BB/9 this year in the DSL, posting a 4.74 ERA in 24.2 innings with 39 strikeouts (31%) but also 32 walks, seven hit batsmen and 12 wild pitches. An 18-year-old the Pirates signed out of the Dominican Republic for $350,000 in 2019, Garcia touched 90 mph at the time, but with projection indicators that he could eventually be an upper-90s arm with his athleticism, easy his arm operation and projection left in a slender 6-foot-3 frame. By the end of 2019, Garcia reached 95 mph, and he cranked it up higher in 2021, sitting at 94-97 mph and hitting 99. It's an overpowering, high-spin fastball that rides up to blow past barrels up in the strike zone from his long arm stroke. Garcia throws a changeup with good tailing life along with an inconsistent slider, but he will need to develop a reliable secondary pitch. He might ultimately end up in the bullpen and is as risky as it gets because of his wildness, but his fastball and athleticism make him an intriguing sleeper.
8. Cesar Ruiz, RHP, Red Sox
The Red Sox have brought a group of promising Venezuelan pitchers into their system in the last couple few years with righthanders Wilkelman Gonzalez, Luis Perales and Alvaro Mejias. Ruiz has a lower profile and his 2021 stats don't jump out (a 4.50 ERA in 20 innings with 17 strikeouts and 11 walks), but his stuff continues to creep up with projection indicators for that to continue. Signed in 2019 touching 88 mph, Ruiz touched 90 mph later that year after signing, then this year was sitting 89-93 mph and touched 95 as an 18-year-old. Ruiz has good arm action, a relatively smooth delivery and has more strength projection left in his 6-foot-3 frame, so there's a chance he could still add more velocity. He has added more power to his breaking ball since signing, showing feel to spin a pitch with average or better upside.
9. Alberto Pacheco, LHP, Rockies
With a focus on bringing in strike-throwers, the early returns on the pitching the Rockies signed out of Latin America in the last two classes have been exciting. The DSL Rockies staff with several promising prospects skewed young but ranked third in the 46-team league in ERA. Pacheco, who signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2019 for $400,000 and turned 19 last month, is one of those strike-throwing arms to watch after posting a 2.93 ERA with a 51-9 K-BB mark in 46 innings. Pacheco has an easy, low-effort delivery that helps him stay under control and locate his fastball well beyond most his age. He sits in the low-90s with good armside run and can touch 95. He's mostly a fastball/changeup pitcher, with his changeup showing solid-average potential that's ahead of his breaking ball.
10. Luis Baldiris, LHP, Marlins
When Baldiris was an amateur in Venezuela before signing in January, he was a slender 5-foot-11 lefty who didn't throw hard, but he stood out for his pitchability, mechanics and a big-breaking curveball. His fastball crept up from the low-80s to the mid-80s, and while it's still a lighter fastball, he's now mostly in the upper-80s with the ability to scrape 91 mph at 17. The Marlins used Baldiris in relief and he posted a 6.06 ERA with 14 walks in 16.1 innings, but he also struck out 31 of the 81 batters he faced (38%). Those whiffs mostly came from his low-70s curveball, a big-depth hook regularly spinning north of 3,000 rpm.