Wenceel proving to be 'an organizational win' for Tigers

May 20th, 2024

PHOENIX -- While discussing AL Rookie of the Year candidates at this point in the season, some of the names most often mentioned are Mason Miller, Davis Schneider, Colton Cowser and Wilyer Abreu. Another one to watch is the Tigers’ Wenceel Pérez. Detroit’s No. 20 prospect has been thriving as an outfielder (a new fit for the 24-year-old, who was an infielder at the Minor League level) and a key piece in the club’s lineup since being called up the second week of April.

Among qualified rookies, Pérez is at or near the top of the traditional slash line categories of average (first), on-base percentage (second) and slugging percentage (second), heading into Monday’s action hitting .301/.377/.527 (.904 OPS, also second among rookies).

“Just giving thanks to God, who is the one giving me the opportunity to come every day and play the sport I love, the sport I’ve wanted to play since I was a kid,” Pérez said while reflecting on the solid start to his Major League career. “This is what I’ve worked for, and every day I come to the park I try to have as much fun as possible.

“I just want to give my best. Grind out the at-bats, every pitch, every game, to do things well and try not to do too much. I also don’t want to put extra pressure on myself; I just want to go out and play and have fun in the game. Those are the types of things that have helped me be consistent.”

That fun has been shared by the Tigers, who are now seeing the fruits of Pérez’s development in his relatively long journey through Detroit’s Minor League system. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2016 at age 16, Pérez could arguably fall into the category of “late bloomer," reaching Triple-A for the first time last year.

As small as his sample size is at the Major League level (29 games), the native of Azua, D.R., is raising eyebrows with the contributions he’s made in his first month and a half with Detroit’s big league club.

As a switch-hitter, Pérez has been frequently penciled in by manager A.J. Hinch in the No. 3 spot in the order, as was the case for the first two games in this past weekend’s series at Arizona against right-handed starters Ryne Nelson and Zac Gallen. For the series finale, he was the sixth-place hitter against left-hander Jordan Montgomery.

In the three contests against the Diamondbacks, Pérez was 4-for-10 with three walks, two triples (both on Saturday), a double and five RBIs, helping the Tigers take two of three in the desert and return to the .500 mark at 23-23 going into their series at Kansas City starting Monday.

“First and foremost, he’s been a very dangerous hitter and he’s worked his way into the middle of our order, for two reasons,” said Hinch, who added that Pérez is becoming “more and more comfortable” defensively as he adjusts to the outfield. “One, he’s very consistent with his at-bats. And number 2, the placement of a switch-hitter in a lineup offers so many challenges for what the other side is going to do as they go to their bullpen. Especially trying to attack Greeny [Riley Greene], with a lefty, Wenceel can turn around and hit righty. If they want to get through him to get to Carp [Kerry Carpenter], you get a left-handed at-bat.

“So, strategically, he offers so much for us.”

As the league becomes more familiar with his hitting profile, the inevitable adjustments will come from opposing pitchers. And with that, Pérez’s own adjustments will have to come into play. Although he hasn’t given it that much thought yet, he says he will be prepared for that stage of his development as a rookie.

“I think everyone likes a challenge,” Pérez said while broaching the subject. “This is a game of challenges, of competition. I’m excited about the competition that’s coming.”

For the Tigers, Pérez’s contributions -- and clubhouse presence -- have had a notable impact so far in 2024.

“He's always got a smile on his face; an awesome kid to have on the team,” Hinch said. “He’s going to get better and better. He’s just scratching the surface of his impact. It’s an organizational win, watching him grow from a young, young teenager to big leaguer. He’s rewarding all that work with a great performance.”

Now, Pérez looks to continue that performance and at the same time avoid injuries, such as the lower back issue that kept him from debuting in the Dominican Winter League (LIDOM) last year with the Águilas Cibaeñas.

“The first thing I want is to ask God to help me finish the season healthy,” he said. “I’m trying to have a good routine in order to finish the season healthy -- and to play well all this time in the big leagues.”