July 15th, 2011

Becoming Martin Perez

Martin Perez learned yesterday that he was promoted to Triple-A Round Rock, which ends his long tenure with the RoughRiders. Brian Boesch takes a look back at the ups and downs for Perez while in Frisco.

With only 37 appearances on his minor league résumé, 18-year-old Martin Perez made his Double-A debut with the RoughRiders August 12, 2009. At that point, Perez had a career earned run average of 2.84. The Rangers had the confidence to promote Perez from Low-A Hickory to Frisco without at stop in High-A.

In other words, Perez had not yet failed in the game of baseball. Ever.

Perez’s first start with the RoughRiders was not pretty. In two and two-thirds innings, the Venezuela native allowed six earned runs. He finished the year with a 1-3 mark and a 5.57 ERA in five Double-A starts, with his final effort being a quality start he was used to posting in Spokane or Hickory.

Yes, the numbers were not awesome, but Perez did get better as his short stint in Double-A progressed. As a result, one of the youngest players the Texas League has ever seen earned even more praise and shouldered even more expectations.

Perez, who was the Rangers’ number five prospect prior to the 2009 season, jumped up to number three in Baseball America’s annual countdown. Overall, Perez jumped from baseball’s 86th best prospect to its 17th. Baseball America even believed that Perez’s estimated time of arrival to the big leagues would be the middle of 2011.

At times during 2010, Perez proved why his name was near the top of every prospect countdown. In late June, Perez struck out 15 and scattered seven hits in 12 scoreless innings during a pair of road starts. In early September, the southpaw tossed six dominant innings in what would turn out to be Frisco’s lone playoff victory.

But Perez largely struggled to gain traction in a league filled with big-name prospects. Perez finished with a record of 5-8 and an ERA at 5.96, much higher than anything he had ever experienced. His strikeout total went down. His walk total went up. His WHIP was at 1.68.

For the first time, Martin Perez was just another arm. For the first time, Martin Perez was failing at the game he had dominated for so long.

The praise still came in 2011. Perez was bumped up to the top spot in the Rangers’ farm system, and he was 24th among all farmhands. Frisco manager Steve Buechele said he had not seen Perez pitch as well as he did during Spring Training. Still, results were necessary.

And those results came almost instantly.

After an average effort in his season opener, the left-hander blanked Springfield over five innings April 14. He whiffed nine Cardinals.

That was the appetizer to the incredible main course Perez served five days later. Perez tossed the second perfect game in RoughRiders history. It was a rain-shortened, five-inning perfecto, but it gave Perez the high-profile Double-A showing he had lacked until that stormy night in North Little Rock, Ark.

“It’s great to be perfect,” Perez said in this MiLB feature after the perfect game. “I’m very happy right now.”

What he said later in that feature, though, would be more important and more telling: “My command has gotten better, so I can throw any of my pitches at any time [in the count].”

Indeed he could. Perez’s fastball continued to develop, and his curveball and changeup kept Texas League hitters off balance. His statistics backed this up.

Perez boasted a 2.74 ERA in April and a 1.47 mark in May. Overall, he went 4-2 with a 3.16 ERA in 17 appearances. One could argue he has been the best pitcher in the Texas League this season, which is quite a turn of events after his struggles in ’09 and ’10.

Thursday, Perez took the penultimate step to the big leagues. The Rangers promoted the 20-year-old to Triple-A Round Rock. He will start Saturday against Memphis.

There is no denying that Perez failed at times with the RoughRiders. He would be the first person to admit that. In the end, Perez posted a 10-13 record and a 4.74 ERA in his 46 career Double-A appearances. Those numbers do not scream “star.”

However, the context of Martin Perez’s 23-month tenure in Frisco does. Perez bounced back from his first serious baseball challenges better than ever. Now, Perez is number six on Baseball America’s midseason prospect list.

Even with great numbers in short-season and Low-A ball, Perez wasn’t the prospect in August of 2009 that he is now.

That’s what makes his time in Frisco so special. With the RoughRiders, Martin Perez became Martin Perez.

GAME PHOTOS: July 14 vs. Corpus Christi

Big thanks to our great team photographer James Garner for these great pictures from tonight’s game.  – AG

21-year-old righty Joe Wieland  tossed six innings of five-hit, one-run ball.  One walk and six strikeouts.

Second baseman Davis Stoneburner’s lead-off home run in the fourth inning tied the game at one.

And Stoneburner celebrates with Frisco interim skipper Brant Brown (Boo is taking his allotted vacation days). The ‘Riders went on to win it 2-1.