Detroit — Dressed spiffily in an orange-and-blue Tigers' ugly Christmas sweater, which really wasn't that ugly at all, Franklin Perez smiled wide when asked about the weather.
It was in the low 20s on Saturday afternoon — certainly a bit of a shock for Perez, a native of Venezuela who now lives in Orlando, but not in a bad way.
"It's not that bad," said Perez, making his first visit to Detroit. "I like this weather. I feel good."
That last comment, of course, should be most comforting for Tigers fans, who don't have much to cling to these days besides the cautious optimism that the minor-league system — so awful and so gutted for so many years, if not decades — really is on the rise, particularly in the pitching department.
Perez is considered one of the organization's top five prospects, and was joined for an autograph signing at Comerica Park by three others, Casey Mize, Alex Faedo and Matt Manning.
Perez was the news of the day, given his 2018 season was cut way short, first by a lat injury that shelved him for more than two months, and then by shoulder inflammation that shut him down in late July. The right-hander was limited to just seven starts, four at Single-A Lakeland and three in rookie ball.
"It's good, yeah," Perez said of the shoulder, which required rest, not surgery. "Doing a lot of exercise. I feel a little tight right now, but it's normal, the injury. I feel good. I'm prepared for next year."
Perez, the prize return in the Justin Verlander trade to the Astros in August 2017, started throwing three weeks ago. He started at 60 feet, now is at 75, and next week is going to push it to 90.
Before he was able to throw, he concentrated his efforts on the gym and getting stronger, working with the training staff in Lakeland, Fla. He said he's in good shape, and one look at him certainly backed that up.
He said he expects to be ready for the start of spring training in February, and said he's definitely ready to put the frustrations of 2018 behind him.
"Really, really frustrated," Perez said, describing his summer mood, done no favors by the spotty numbers he did put up — 18 hits, 14 earned runs, eight walks — in the 19⅓ innings he was able to pitch. "But that helped me a lot, like my mind is stronger."
He later added, through a translator (he bounced back and forth between answering in English and Spanish): "It was hard, but I learned a lot, what I learned was patience. God has plans."
Perez can only hope those plans include many more trips to Detroit, and preferably, eventually, a permanent one — and one that includes much more cold weather, like, say, in October.
The Tigers are neck-deep in their teardown and rebuild and aren't expected to seriously contend in the next two or three years, and most would suggest that timeline is generous. It all depends, of course, on the steady progression of Perez, who turned 21 on Thursday, Mize, 21, Faedo, 23, and Manning, 20, among several other highly touted arms.
Some believe Mize and Faedo, more advanced having played in college, could be pitching at Comerica Park as soon as this September, Manning maybe by 2020 and Perez maybe by 2021.
But Perez got his first taste of life in Detroit — the cold temperatures, the warm welcome from still-passionate if not impatient fans. And he even chowed down on some cachapas, a popular dish in his home country, dropped off by a fellow Venezuelan.
"It's the first time doing this, I like it, spending time with the fans," Perez said, through his translator. "I love the support of the fans.
"I feel like I'm at home."