Why Wily Peralta believes he’ll make the Detroit Tigers roster in spring training

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers were one of nine teams with scouts watching right-hander Wily Peralta pitch in a showcase Thursday at Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

The Tigers were already in conversation with Peralta’s agent, but the positive signs at the showcase convinced them to offer a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. They proposed $1.5 million if he makes the majors, with up to $300,000 in incentives.

Peralta, 31, signed the contract, just hours after his showcase.

With eight years of MLB experience, Peralta hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2019 with the Kansas City Royals (and not as a starter since 2017 with the Milwaukee Brewers). But he believes new developments, especially an uptick in fastball velocity, could allow him to pitch at least four more years.

“I feel like I can try (starting games) again,” Peralta told the Free Press on Thursday. “I would feel fine with that. Whatever situation that I can have the ball in my hand, I’m going to do the best I can. I’m going to give you my 100%.

“Right now, I would probably say I’m more comfortable coming out of the bullpen, but I’ve been a starter before, so it’s not going to be that big of a deal.”

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To understand Peralta’s bounce-back potential, it’s important to know what he didn’t tell anyone. He pitched through an elbow injury in 2019 before the Royals released him that July, after a 5.80 ERA in 42 relief appearances. (The year prior, he worked into the closer role — saving 14 games — with a 3.67 ERA.)

Surgery was required to remove a bone spur in his elbow. Dr. David Altchek, the New York Mets’ team doctor, performed the surgery in December 2019.

“So, I spent the first few months of 2020 doing rehab,” Peralta said. “After that, I was 100% healthy (in March). And then the (COVID-19) pandemic came in, and I wasn’t able to go back (to the majors).”

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Without an MLB opportunity, Peralta continued to train, eventually joining Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Winter League.

Toward the end of his time as a Royal, Peralta’s fastball velocity was around 93-94 mph.

Fully healthy in the DR, he said, his fastball averaged 95-96 mph and touched 98 mph. And there’s data from the past to help back up his claim: his fastball dropped from an average of 96.2 mph in 2018 to 94.3 mph in 2019 — because of the elbow injury.

“With the pandemic, in winter ball, there weren’t any scouts in the stands watching the game because of all the restrictions,” Peralta said. “We were able to do a showcase and show teams I was healthy.”

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The Tigers weren’t the only organization checking in on Peralta. The other teams to scout Peralta’s showcase: the Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals, New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins.

This winter, Peralta made eight relief appearances for Gigantes del Cibao in the regular season. He had a 3.52 ERA with seven strikeouts and six walks across 7⅔ innings.

“I just got to own my breaking ball,” Peralta said. “I’m comfortable throwing it right now. It’s got better depth on it. It’s pretty much still the same arsenal, I just feel healthier and like I’m throwing better.”

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Before Peralta can showcase his improved velocity and, presumably, better command and control, he needs to get his work visa, take a COVID-19 test to travel into the U.S. and then go through intake screening and quarantine in Lakeland.

He expects to get the paperwork for his visa within the next week.

And whenever Peralta arrives to spring training, he promises to lock in on his goal.

“My mindset when I get there is just to show everybody that I belong there,” Peralta said. “I’ll try to do the best I can to compete for that spot and show that I can help the team win when I get back to the big leagues.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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