Tribe drafts switch-pitcher Perez in 12th round
CLEVELAND -- It began as a kind of experiment. Juan Perez would put a baseball in his youngest son Ryan's left hand when he was a toddler, encouraging him to throw that way. At a local pond, the boy would pick up a stone and reach back, ready to skip it across the water.
"No, use your left hand."
Ryan would shift the rock from his right hand to his left, and then watch it skim across the surface before disappearing.
The father had once dreamed of pitching in the Major Leagues, but an injury to his left arm -- his throwing arm -- derailed a path that ended with semi-pro ball. So, he began dreaming about someday having a lefty pitcher for a son. The first of his five children -- three boys and two girls -- each turned out to be right-handed.
When Ryan was born, Juan Perez knew this was his last chance.
"I said, 'I haven't had a lefty,'" Juan recalled, "'and I've always wondered, can you make a player left-handed, even though his natural side is right-handed? I was wondering, can it be done?"
On Wednesday, Juan and and his youngest son were together when the call came in that the Indians had selected Ryan in the 12th round of the Draft. Not only did Juan's efforts help Ryan turn into a promising pitching prospect, but the boy who once threw rocks with both hands is now on the cusp of becoming a professional switch-pitcher.
Last week, Pat Venditte stole headlines across the country when he made his Major League debut with the A's, introducing baseball to the unique switch-pitching phenomenon. Venditte wears a special glove that he can shift between hands during his appearances. From batter to batter, Venditte can exploit the platoon advantage without forcing the manager to make a pitching chance.
A few days ago, Indians manager Terry Francona joked that having a switch-pitcher was a "dream scenario" for him.
"I'd wear him out," quipped the manager.
Told of Francona's comments, Juan Perez laughed.
After Cleveland selected the 21-year-old Perez with the Draft's 364th overall pick, Francona was informed by assistant general manager Mike Chernoff that the club had indeed added a switch-pitcher.
"I thought he was kidding," Francona said on Wednesday. "He might not even go to the Minor Leagues. I don't care if he gets anyone out -- just the idea that he can go both sides. I thought they were messing with me."
Unlike Venditte, Perez has not used his switch-pitching on a batter-to-batter basis much throughout his amateur career. In his time with Judson University in Illinois, Perez worked as a left-handed starter and then doubled as a right-handed closer. Sometimes, he would close his own starts. During showcase events, and in the Cape Cod League last summer, he would switch-pitch within an inning to show off his amidextrous ability to scouts.
"My family calls it the 'Ambo Rambo,'" Perez said with a laugh.
This past season, he was limited to 27 1/3 innings, while returning from a left triceps strain that required a six-week rest period. In a recent pre-Draft workout, though, Perez was able to top out at 94 mph with his four-seam fastball from the left side. The pitcher said he sits around 90-92 mph from the left side and around 90-91 mph (topping at 93 mph) from the right side. From both sides, Perez also features a curveball, slider and changeup.
"I don't think there's anybody else right now that's throwing 90 mph with both arms on planet Earth," Juan Perez said. "If he's doing it, he hasn't come forward."
Given his unique skill set, Ryan Perez said he is ready to do whatever Cleveland asks of him.
"I'm not limited, that's for sure," Perez said. "There's unlimited choices. I've done everything. I've proved that I can do everything. In college, I started. Even at the Cape, I relieved from the left side and the right side. I've switched ambidextrously. It doesn't matter."
The Indians are not exactly sure yet how they will utilize Perez's skill set.
"It's a unique situation for us," said Brad Grant, the Indians' director of amateur scouting. "We'll kind of get him in the system and then try to figure it out."
Perez, who is listed as 6-feet and 190 pounds, underwent Tommy John surgery on his right arm his senior year at Westminster Christian High School (Ill.). That forced him to learn how to do more everyday things (such as writing, eating and brushing his teeth) with his left hand. Naturally, Perez is a righty, but he can do athletic activities beyond baseball with his left.
"He's one of those kids that, when you talk to him," Judson head coach Rich Benjamin said, "he's very flexible about whatever you want to do. He just wants to compete. So, if they put him in the bullpen in pro ball, then he may start to switch hitter to hitter."
Perez had a range of emotions overtake him when the Indians officially called his name.
"Excited. Relieved. Overwhelmed," he said.
His father's experiment paid off.
"I'm the culprit," Juan Perez said with a chuckle. "There's no doubt about that."