Plan for once-prized Detroit Tigers pitcher Franklin Perez in 2023: ‘He’s still with us’

Detroit Free Press

It’s been a long five years for Franklin Perez.

Perez, the centerpiece of the Detroit Tigers‘ three-player return from the Houston Astros in the 2017 Justin Verlander trade, spent almost all of the five past seasons, from 2018-22, away from the mound. The injuries and setbacks seemed endless, and his right shoulder was the main issue.

Finally, Perez feels healthy again.

“I’m happy with the progress I’m making right now,” Perez said, speaking from his home in Davenport, Florida. “Obviously, there is always room to improve, but I’m feeling much better than the way I was feeling before. I’m ready to seize the moment.”

In 2023, the Tigers plan to test Perez — assuming he is healthy when he reports to minor-league spring training — by sending him to a full-season affiliate, likely Low-A Lakeland. He hasn’t pitched for a full-season affiliate since 2019.

This offseason, the 25-year-old right-hander trained at the Tigers’ spring training facility in Lakeland.

“He’s still with us,” said Ryan Garko, the Tigers’ vice president of player development. “He’s continuing to work really hard. … We haven’t tested him yet. He hasn’t thrown off the mound yet. He’s thrown some light bullpens, just the same progression as everybody else, but he’ll be in camp. Everybody is rooting for him to make a full recovery and have a shot to climb the ladder again.”

Perez, who underwent right shoulder surgery in Los Angeles in May 2021, recently pitched in a professional game for the first time since 2019. He took the mound for 10 starts in the Florida Complex League last season, beginning in June 2022.

The Tigers tried to help him find a repeatable delivery.

“We got close there at the end,” Garko said. “He carried that over to the offseason.”

Perez posted a 9.59 ERA with 29 walks and 18 strikeouts over 25⅓ innings. Those results don’t matter, though, since Perez essentially relearned the basics of pitching against rookie-level opponents. It was like learning to walk again.

He threw 532 pitches and primarily relied on his four-seam fastball and changeup while mixing in some sliders and curveballs. His fastball averaged 88.2 mph (1,969 rpm spin rate) and maxed out at 91.7 mph. He fired 53% of his pitches for strikes.

In 2017, his fastball averaged 93.2 mph (2,345 rpm spin rate) and maxed out at 96.3 mph. That year, Perez logged a 3.02 ERA with 27 walks and 78 strikeouts over a career-high 86⅓ innings in 19 games (16 starts) between High-A Buies Creek and Double-A Corpus Christi in the Astros’ organization. He threw 63.8% of his pitches for strikes.

Upon joining the Tigers, Perez became the No. 1 prospect in the organization but pitched just 27 innings in the 2018-21 seasons. As a prospect, he was lauded for his ability to fill up the strike zone.

“Right now, I’m working on my mechanics,” Perez said. “That’s what helps me every time I’m on the mound. I’m concentrating on getting the mechanics that work for me. Throughout the years, because of what happened to me, the mechanics have been on the sidelines, and we’ve been focusing on health. Now, I’m focused on the actual mechanics.”

Perez is currently throwing all four of his pitches in preparation for spring training. He believes his mechanics “are improving” every week, and he thinks he discovered “what works best for me” on the mound.

He reports to camp in early March.

“My main goal is staying healthy,” Perez said. “I’m very excited to be back. Nobody knows how excited I am to be back. I’m healthy, focused and motivated. I was motivated through everything that happened in the last five years, but I’m very, very motivated for what’s to come.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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