During the early weeks of spring camp, Franklin Perez had been further charming a Tigers team that sees in him a potential top-tier rotation starter.
Strong body. Strong starts. Bright year ahead, the Tigers forecasters said, for a right-handed prospect, only 20, who is perhaps the most talented youngster Detroit’s farm system, and who was set to begin the 2018 season at Double-A Erie.
The timetable has, at least for now, slowed. Perez will miss the next three months due to a strain of the latissimus dorsi (LAT) — the triangle-shaped muscle that extends from the spinal column, to the armpit, and for a pitcher is in the physiological wheelhouse.
“Obviously, it’s going to mean some down time,” said Dave Littlefield, the Tigers vice president of player development. “He’s got to rest up, and not try and push it. It’s an area doctors say where that last 15 percent can be hard to know if it’s healed. We’ll do diagnostic tests along the way and monitor it.”
Perez was the main prospect blue chip the Tigers netted in last August’s closing-seconds trade that sent Justin Verlander to the Astros. He is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, and was creating steady buzz on TigerTown’s back fields as he unleashed pitches that are unusually polished for a man so young.
Perez strained the LAT during a minor-league game last week against the Braves at their Disney World complex.
“Last pitch of the second inning,” Littlefield said. “He was scheduled to go three. But he felt a little discomfort he hadn’t felt in the past, and we were going to be cautious. We pulled him out of game, and once we got back, we got the word.”
Perez last season pitched in 19 games at Single A and Double A stops in the Astros system, rolling up only 861/3 innings because of an early-season knee injury. He had 3.02 ERA, and a 1.13 WHIP, built on 71 hits, 78 strikeouts, and 27 walks.
The Tigers prefer that he work closer to 125 innings in 2018. And that goal still applies, even if Perez could approach July before he sees Erie’s rotation.
“I don’t think it will be significant,” Littlefield said, speaking of any developmental setback. “He’ll be off the conventional grid a little bit, but we’ve still got Instructional League (autumn), the Arizona Fall League, and the Winter League. So, as you look at innings, there are a lot of different options.”
Perez will stick at the team’s minor-league headquarters, and its rehab facility, in Lakeland until he rejoins Erie.
It wasn’t the plan, Littlefield acknowledged, for a pitcher whose path to Detroit had been progressing smoothly in the early days of camp.
“He has looked very good,” Littlefield said. “He’s got that whole package of front-line starter attributes.”