PHOENIX -- It remains to be seen whether Freddy Peralta’s new slider will stick, or whether he will settle into a starting role or relief. But one thing is certain: Peralta will have some security while he finds his way after the Brewers and their 23-year-old right-hander agreed to a five-year, $15.5 million contract extension that includes two club options that could raise the contract’s total value to $30 million, according to MLB Network insiders Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman.
“We are happy to announce that we have reached a multi-year extension with Freddy that can keep him in a Brewers uniform for the better part of this decade,” president of baseball operations and general manager Stearns said on Friday. “During the initial stages of his career, Freddy has demonstrated numerous qualities that we believe will make him a quality Major League pitcher for years to come. His talent combined with his intellect and work ethic give him a great base from which to build.”
“He looked like he wanted to tell me something,” said catcher Manny Piña with a smile. “He’s young, and the tools he has with a 97-98 [mph] fastball, the curveball he has, now the slider. You know, when you play with a guarantee -- this is good, man. That’s what everyone is looking for. Now you can play relaxed. You play with confidence. There’s a lot less pressure.”
The extension buys out the 23-year-old Peralta’s arbitration-eligible years and could keep him in a Brewers uniform through at least the 2024 season, and potentially through ‘26. The Dominican Republic native has shown flashes of brilliance in between other moments of inconsistency over his first two seasons with the Brewers, during which he has posted a 4.79 ERA in 163 1/3 innings with a promising 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
Armed with a deceptive, riding four-seam fastball that he throws with two different grips, plus a curve, Peralta burst onto the scene with 13 strikeouts against the Rockies in his Major League debut on May 13, 2018. According to Baseball Reference, Peralta was the fifth pitcher since 1908 to strike out 13 or more batters in his Major League debut, following Stephen Strasburg (14 strikeouts in 2010), J.R. Richard (15 in 1971), Karl Spooner (15 in 1954) and Cliff Melton (13 in 1937).
Struggles with command have sent Peralta to the Milwaukee bullpen at times, including the Crew’s National League Championship Series appearance against the Dodgers in 2018, and their surge to a postseason spot last September. But Peralta reported to Brewers camp this year with a renewed sense of confidence after adding a slider during winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
“I knew that I could make the slider great, but not that fast,” Peralta said. “I took two or three weeks during [Dominican Winter League] games, and ... I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I can feel it like I feel the fastball. I can throw it whenever I want.”
Said Piña: “The way he played in winter ball is going to help him a lot. Dominican winter ball is tough. It’s a lot of big league players, a lot of competition, and he went there and did a good job. I think he’s got the confidence that he can do it here. The first day he came here [to Spring Training], he was ready to pitch.”
Because he reported to camp with more of a foundation than other pitchers who are just getting started, Peralta pitched two innings in a scoreless spring debut on Tuesday against the Mariners.
“The reason we’ve always been really excited about Freddy is he’s so young,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “For me, you’re always excited about the prospects, and also have more patience, with a player who makes the big leagues at age 21. Consider all the people they have just competed against and kind of blown past, and the age of those people. You can say that for a lot of players. That’s why you’re patient with [Brewers catcher] Jacob Nottingham -- because he’s still a young player, and he’s been in these big league camps as a young player.
“That’s the case with Freddy. He’s got things to still add. There’s things to learn. There’s strength to add. More ways to get better for a player his age. That’s what he’s always shown. He’s performed in the big leagues at times; it’s kind of been flashes. But there’s been big enough stretches where he’s performed really well, so I think we always get excited about those players and realize there’s more to come.”
Peralta is competing with left-hander Eric Lauer to open the season as Milwaukee’s fifth starter behind some order of Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser, Brett Anderson and Josh Lindblom. If Lauer wins that spot and everyone else is healthy, then Peralta would begin the year in the bullpen.