Detroit — A small group of young, exciting arms are the centerpiece of the Tigers' future fortunes.
Pardon the pun, but often this year, a few are having trouble shouldering the load.
Shoulder struggles are no laughing matter for the franchise, which placed prospect Franklin Perez on the injured list last week for the third time this season and fifth time since he was acquired in the Justin Verlander trade with the Astros in 2017.
The 21-year-old isn’t alone with shoulder struggles, as young arms Casey Mize, Kyle Funkhouser and Beau Burrows have all missed time with right shoulder issues.
On Friday, the major league club was also inflicted as Spencer Turnbull, 26, was sent to the 10-day injured list with shoulder fatigue.
The Tigers have a lot resting on this group as they try to build from within like the 1984 World Series champions did decades ago.
Ace Jack Morris, who started 23 or more games from 1979 until his final year in 1994, said his success came from the weight room.
“Everybody is built different and I am not going to second-guess a guy’s injury or why,” Morris said Friday. “I did get on a weight program that I believed kept me and sustained me, and I had to be on it religiously. If I quit, I’d get sore, I’d get tired, I’d get fatigued. You had to stay on it.
“And it requires a hell of a lot of work, but I was willing to put up that work because I knew it would pay off.”
Perez has started twice this season and nine times since the 2017 trade. The numbers were good in two starts this season in High-A Lakeland, giving up two runs in 7.2 innings while striking out six.
Because of the injuries, his star has fallen. Perez was ranked No. 4 among the team's prospects by The Detroit News in the winter after sitting atop the list in 2018. He is now No. 62 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects after topping out at 39th on the list heading into last season, while many higher-ranked players have cycled to the big leagues.
What makes it all the more frustrating for fans is the promise of four “plus pitches,” according to catcher Bobby Wilson, who caught Perez in a spring training game and during his own trip to Lakeland this year for an injury rehab assignment.
“It’s exciting for Tigers fans, when he is able to stay healthy, that he has a chance to be something special,” Wilson said. “He has electric stuff.
“Usually it takes time for guys to develop four pitches. It takes time for them to develop two pitches, let alone four pitches, so he’s obviously advanced beyond his years. It’s just a matter of him staying healthy and being able to pitch.”
Perez, a converted third baseman, was the centerpiece of the deal that turned Verlander into a World Series hero in Houston.
While fellow trade pieces Daz Cameron and Jake Rogers have risen to Triple-A Toledo, the news has been mostly bad for the Venezuelan since the deal.
Tigers reliever Joe Jimenez, 24, has struck up a friendship with Perez, bringing a cake to Lakeland for Perez’s birthday two years ago when he was away from home.
“He’s a workhorse,” Jimenez said. “He works hard and he likes doing it. It’s not like he’s doing it because he has to.
“Trust me, all he wants is to be healthy. It doesn’t matter if you do good or bad, you just stay healthy. No one wants to get hurt and be on the IL like that. He’s a little bit frustrated because he got traded here and he hasn’t been able to get the ball basically.”
When Wilson, 36, last saw him in Lakeland, Perez had lost weight from the time Wilson broke camp for Toledo in the spring. It only confirmed the catcher’s belief in the young phenom’s work ethic.
“He’s obviously having a tough time, every time I talk to him,” Wilson said. “It seems like he’s staying positive with it, and like I told him, the only thing that we can control is how hard we work. I told him to continue to work hard, and that’s all it takes.
“He looks like he has years in the game. He’s already a grown man, I would say, with his mentality and the way that he works. It’s impressive to see a guy at a young age like that doing it.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.