Is This The Year For Franklin Perez? He Feels 'Fantastic'

The 22-year-old is trying to reclaim his spot in the Tigers' future.

Will Burchfield
February 11, 2020 - 5:04 pm

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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Before the arrival of Casey Mize, before the emergence of Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal, the Tigers' top pitching prospect was Franklin Perez. Remember him? 

The big right-hander came over as the centerpiece of the Justin Verlander trade in 2017, armed with a lively fastball, a plus-curveball and some strong numbers in Double-A. He hasn't pitched beyond A-ball since. In fact, Perez has thrown just 27 innings total in three seasons in the Tigers organization, undone by myriad injuries. In the wave of young pitchers on their way to Detroit, the 22-year-old feels lost at sea.

But there's the catch, and maybe the hope. Perez, for as long as he's been around, turned 22 just two months ago. That makes him the same age as Mize and Manning, and a year younger than Skubal. It makes him two years younger than Alex Faedo. There's plenty of time for Perez to fulfill his potential, so long as he can stay healthy. And he sounds poised to take a step forward in 2020. 

"I feel fantastic," Perez told reporters Monday in Lakeland, a day before the official arrival of pitchers and catchers for spring training, via MLB.com. "This is one of the best moments for us as pitchers, focusing on improving our pitches instead of rehabilitating and getting back to business. It feels great to be back here."

Perez is plenty familiar with the place. It's where he spent most of last season, throwing in fits and starts as the Tigers' rotation of the future took shape in Double-A Erie. After dealing with a lat strain and shoulder inflammation in 2018, Perez was hindered by shoulder tendinitis and more soreness in 2019. His last time on the mound was June 18, in a rehab start for Class-A Lakeland. 

His next time on the mound will hopefully be the start of a resurgence. 

"From all the bad things, you learn something good, so I'm taking things positive," Perez said. "During this, I've been able to learn myself even better, know my body composition even better, and that's what I'm focused on trying to be ready for Spring Training."

Perez said he had a "very, very productive" offseason, including revamping his diet. He remains an imposing presence on mound, at 6'3 and about 200 pounds. If there's any silver lining to his health woes the past few years, it's that he hasn't had any elbow trouble. He's also never gone under the knife. If Perez can get his shoulder right -- and it sounds like he has -- 2020 stands to be a year of significant growth. 

"I know I've been having setbacks and injuries in years before, but right now I feel completely normal," he said. "In fact, when I'm doing bullpen [sessions], I'm focusing on my mindset getting ready for Spring Training. I think I can throw normally. I think I can throw in games, and I'm just getting ready for that."

He was once the top prospect in the organization. These days he checks in at sixth, according to MLB.com. It's a reflection of how rarely he's been healthy and how much talent has arrived in the meantime. That Perez remains that high is also a tribute to his potential. Remember, this was a 19-year-old who put up a 3.09 ERA over seven appearances in Double-A in 2017.

If he can start swimming with the tide in 2020, we might remember why he made us so excited in the first place.