Tigers prospect Wenceel Perez, Whitecaps hope to heat up as summer approaches

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News
Wenceel Perez

Comstock Park, Mich. — The beginning of baseball’s Midwest League season is something of a reverse spring break.

While young people everywhere annually escape to warm weather to blow off steam, green minor leaguers go north each spring, battling the cold in locales like Beloit, Wis., and Fort Wayne, Ind.

But if West Michigan manager Lance Parrish wants a good omen for the rest of the season that his Whitecaps might heat up, this weekend gave him a taste.

West Michigan, which entered Sunday at 9-12, scored double-digit runs for the second time this season Thursday with temperatures touching 70 degrees at Comstock Park’s Fifth Third Ballpark. The offense slowed again as the weekend weather cooled.

“For me, it’s been very hard to judge anybody because it’s been so stinking cold out,” Parrish said before Thursday’s game, a 10-9 come-from-behind win in 10 innings over Lake County (Ohio). “I don’t know what you can tell them. You either can get a feel for it or you can’t.”

The Pennsylvania-born Parrish quickly rose through Detroit’s system before leaving the Triple-A Evansville Triplets for the Tigers for good as a 21-year-old in 1977, later becoming an eight-time All-Star.

His charges include a Low-A Whitecaps roster with just two players from areas where winter stretches into spring: Pitcher Adam Wolf of Milan, Ohio, and utility player John Valente of New Rochelle, NY.

Parrish’s two top prospects are a pair of 19-year-olds: Parker Meadows in the outfield (No. 5 on The Detroit News' top 50 list) and Wenceel Perez at shortstop (No. 7). Both had slow starts, but are showing sparks lately.

Meadows, a 2018 second-round pick out of Grayson, Ga., had one hit in his first 16 at-bats, but entered Sunday with six hits in his last four games.

Perez (his first name rhymes with "pencil") grew up in the Dominican Republic and spoke to The Detroit News through Whitecaps coach Eddie Dennis, Perez’s countryman and a former minor-league infielder who also serves as translator for West Michigan’s Spanish-speaking players.

Perez, who had back-to-back two-hit games Saturday and Sunday, giving him three  multi-hit game on the season, denied the cold contributed to him starting the season 9 for 60 (.150).

“He said no, but in my experience, I know the cold-weather affects Latin ballplayers more than it does affect American ballplayers,” Dennis said.

Added Perez, who said he’s been working on landing his foot down earlier in his swing: “I know I’ve been on a low start offensively, but I will continue working to be able to bring my batting average up.”

Tigers shortstop prospect Wenceel Perez was a late-season callup for the West Michigan Whitecaps last season.

The switch-hitting Perez is 4 of 11 (.364) from the right side, and Parrish said he’s also driving the ball from the left side in batting practice. Perez hit .309 in 16 Whitecaps games after a late-season promotion last year.

Perez, who grew up idolizing a possible future rival in Francisco Lindor of Cleveland, worked in spring training with Alan Trammell, a Hall of Fame shortstop and now special assistant to Tigers general manager Al Avila, Dennis and minor-league infield coordinator Jose Valentin on not dropping his right-handed throws to sidearm.

The Whitecaps have been led offensively by first baseman Nick Ames (.348 10 RBIs entering Sunday) and outfielder Ulrich Bojarski (.324, 10 HRs), and have decent arms in righties Carlos Guzman (No. 13 prospect), Wilkel Hernandez (No. 28), Angel De Jesus (No. 40) and Wolf (No. 31), a lefty.

West Michigan, which has Midland’s Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers affiliate) and the Lansing Lugnuts (Blue Jays) in its division, is a step down from the Lakeland Flying Tigers of the Advanced-A Florida State League.

But Parrish said it’s not just the Rocky Balburrito cheesesteak burrito and deep-fried bread pudding that should bring Tigers fans to the Grand Rapids area this summer.

“We have some young talented guys here, a few of these guys are going to play a role in the future of the Detroit Tigers,” said Parrish, in his second Whitecaps season. “If you want to see them early, see how they progress or see what they got right now, I would encourage everybody to come out here. 

“We do have some talented guys here, and I think it’d be worth the trip.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.