DETROIT -- Nobody in the Tigers' system arguably had more reason to look forward to flipping the calendar than Franklin Perez.After an injury-plagued 2018 season limited Perez to seven appearances and 19 1/3 innings, the gifted young right-hander became a nearly forgotten figure amongst the top pitching prospects the Tigers
DETROIT -- Nobody in the Tigers' system arguably had more reason to look forward to flipping the calendar than Franklin Perez.
After an injury-plagued 2018 season limited Perez to seven appearances and 19 1/3 innings, the gifted young right-hander became a nearly forgotten figure amongst the top pitching prospects the Tigers have assembled. Add in Daz Cameron's rise up the farm system, and it's easy to forget that Perez was the top prospect Detroit acquired in the Justin Verlander trade 16 months ago.
The fans who lined up for autographs from Perez and other Tigers pitching prospects at Comerica Park last month didn't forget. Now healthy, Perez is ready to refresh some memories soon as he prepares for his first Major League camp.
"Really frustrating," he said of his 2018, "but that helped me a lot to get stronger. I feel really good, stronger and prepared for next year."
MLB Pipeline ranked Perez as the Tigers' top prospect at this point a year ago. There was good reason: Perez not only made it to Double-A ball by the time his teenage years were over, he more than held his own, posting a 3.02 ERA and 78 strikeouts over 86 1/3 innings across the Astros' farm system in 2017. Though Perez wasn't in big league camp for Spring Training last year, he was one of the more intriguing names in Tigertown.
A right lat injury midway through camp halted talk of which Minor League stop Perez would make on Opening Day. By the time Perez made his Tigers organizational debut, the season was half over and Perez was pitching in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League on a rehab assignment in late June.
Perez made three rehab outings in the GCL, then four July starts for Class A Advanced Lakeland. He made all of them on a pitch count as the Tigers tried to ease him into action and avoid aggravating the lat injury. But while Perez's lat was fine, his right shoulder suddenly flared up, he said through a translator. Detroit took no chances, shutting him down for the season.
Combine the two stops, and Perez finished with a 6.52 ERA for 2018, despite 14 strikeouts. Between the two injuries and the frustration about them, Perez said he learned a lesson about patience.
"God has plans," he said through a translator.
The Tigers also their plans for Perez, who made his offseason home in Orlando and has made frequent trips to Lakeland. He began throwing around the end of November and spent December throwing off flat ground. Aside from some general tightness, he said, he felt fine. His time off the mound gave him time in the weight room to further strengthen what was already a mighty frame for a young pitcher. He's expected to be at full strength for Spring Training next month.
Perez's addition to Detroit's 40-man roster not only protected him from last month's Rule 5 Draft, it earns him a spot in big league camp, where manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson will get a look at him.
From there, Detroit must decide where to essentially restart Perez's development. He just turned 21 years old last month and could conceivably join fellow top prospects Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and possibly Casey Mize at Double-A Erie, though the Tigers have traditionally preferred to have pitching prospects recovering from injury open their seasons in Lakeland's warm weather.
"I never played before in cold weather, but I like it," Perez said last month while sampling Detroit's chilly conditions. "It's not that bad. To play baseball in this, it's not difficult."
The Tigers drafted Mize while Perez was sidelined. Add in Manning's rapid development in 2018, and Perez now ranks third among Tigers prospects. He is still 67th among MLB's top 100 prospects. If he comes back in his old form, he could climb the latter list quickly.
"A lot of it plays out itself relative to guys getting out on the field and performing and staying healthy and how Spring Training goes," Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield said about where Detroit's top pitching prospects will begin their seasons. "We have some strong thoughts about how that will play out, but they have to do it on the field and make sure everybody posts up."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.