Perez ready to flip script after offseason toil

February 14th, 2019

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The first thing to notice about Franklin Perez as he sits at one end of the clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium is his size. He's listed at 6-foot-3 and 197 pounds, but he looks bigger. An offseason of working out at the Tigers' Spring Training facility helped define his body, he said through a translator.
"He's gotten a lot stronger," said catcher , his teammate from back in the Astros' farm system. "He's gotten his body right."
When Perez gets on the field and throws, as he did for his bullpen session Thursday morning, there's a reminder why he was the prized return in the trade that sent longtime Tiger to Houston.
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"If you see his workouts and everything, he's a beast," Tigers reliever said.
That trade happened 18 months ago. Verlander has 302 innings in an Astros uniform -- postseason included. Perez has 19 1/3 innings as a Tigers prospect.
After what was essentially a lost 2018 season, Perez looks ready to change that.
While Casey Mize is the headline prospect in camp this spring, Perez is in some ways the forgotten one, even though he ranks 78th on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list and is Detroit's No. 3 prospect. This is his first Major League camp, but considering he suffered a lat strain in camp last year, this is effectively his first full Spring Training as a Tiger.
The team didn't want to rush Perez back and risk him injuring his arm with bad mechanics. Perez didn't make his organizational debut last year until June 25. After three rehab appearances in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Perez moved up to Class A Advanced Lakeland, where he made four starts on a tight pitch count. Those outings, brief as they were, were a learning experience, he said.
When his shoulder flared up, the Tigers didn't risk it. After making sure the injury showed no structural damage, the club shut him down for the season and let him rehab.
Essentially, the Tigers and Perez reset. He just turned 21 years old two months ago, so there's no rush with age. But Perez also showed a maturity with how he approached the time off.
"It was very frustrating," he said through a translator, "but it taught me a lot mentally. It made [me] more mentally tough."
It certainly gave him time to toughen up physically. The native Venezuelan moved to Orlando for the offseason and commuted to Lakeland to work out at the Spring Training facility. He didn't have much company until Tigers pitchers and Jimenez arrived -- Fulmer to rehab his right knee, Jimenez to reprise the workout program that brought him good results last year.
Though Jimenez just turned 24 last month, Perez credited him as a mentor, telling him what he's doing well and what he can do better. Perez also thanked Tigers Minor League rehab coordinator Corey Tremble, assistant Manny Pena and strength and conditioning coordinator Steve Chase for helping him get into shape.
"He stayed here like I did last year, the whole [offseason]," Jimenez said. "That's hard, because a lot of guys don't do that. That just impressed me the most. He came here early and did his thing, worked on his body and everything. I think he's ready to start the season and have a great year."
By all accounts, Perez has no restrictions this spring. As long as he feels good, he can throw at full strength and stretch out his workload. The Tigers might still move slowly with him out of camp, allowing him to start out at Class A Advanced Lakeland until the weather warms in Double-A Erie.
For the next few weeks, though, he gets to wear a Tigers uniform. In the process, he gets to spend time in the same clubhouse as one of his idols. Before Perez became a pitcher, he was a hitter who tried to model his swing after fellow Venezuelan .
"It's still a dream, being able to spend time with Miggy," Perez said.