It is not too often that you get to return to your hometown. Sergio Perez will get that chance. Marc Topkin tweets that Perez, a 29 year old right-hander, has signed with the Rays on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. The former second round pick by the Houston Astros heads back to the Tampa Bay area after being born in Tampa and attending the University of Tampa. Can the local kid make an impact for the Rays this season?
Perez stood out as a prospect for a fastball that touched as high as 97 MPH to go along with a good slider and a changeup that had its moments. Perez’s issue, though, was effort in his delivery, which led to deception but also issues with command. Everyone thought from the start that Perez would eventually end up in the bullpen, where he had a chance to be a late-inning reliever. However, Perez only got to spend one season in that role. For the Astros in 2012, Perez went 4-2 with a 4.54 ERA, a 7.0 K/9, a 4.4 BB/9, and a 1.0 HR/9 in 36 relief appearances, 4 starts, and 75.1 innings pitched. Every other season, he remained primarily a starter. Perez has the stuff to warrant one more chance out of the bullpen. It appears that chance will be coming with the Rays this season.
Sergio Perez has some similarities to Matt Buschmann, who pitched in the Rays organization the last two years before signing with Perez’s team for part of 2013, the Oakland Athletics, this offseason. Buschmann was originally a 15th round pick, but he quickly emerged as a solid prospect thanks to a strong fastball-slider combination. The question was always his third pitch or lack thereof, and that prevented him from conquering Triple-A. In the Rays organization, he finally learned a changeup and had a breakout year in 2013. Perez has similar stuff and will be the Rays’ next “pet project” in his late-20’s. Perez might immediately move to the bullpen while Buschmann was able to start games, but the Rays will hope to improve his changeup and salvage enough of his arsenal that he could make an impact in a relief role if necessary. With the Rays featuring plenty of relievers, Perez’s chance of cracking the team is pretty slim–but you can never have too much depth and Perez will be thrilled if the Rays can revitalize his career and get him a chance in another organization for next season.
After signing players like Buschmann, Juan Sandoval, and now Sergio Perez the last few years, the Rays have tried to exploit the inefficiency of older players who have good stuff but slipped through the cracks and never made the major leagues. Sandoval is back, and now he and Perez will compete to be the first such signing to pitch a big league game for the Rays. Through it all, Perez’s pure stuff has never diminished, and the Rays still see a pitcher with a chance to be effective in a relief role. Let’s see if Perez can reward the Rays’ faith.