Bob Wojnowski and Chris McCosky review the Tigers' 114-loss season and project the starting lineup for the 2020 season. The Detroit News
San Diego — Franklin Perez is 22 years old. There are 200 pounds of lean muscle on his 6-foot-3 frame. He’s a powerfully built, athletic right-handed pitcher considered to be the key prize in the trade that sent Justin Verlander to Houston in 2017.
And yet, here we are, two-plus years later and he still can’t throw a baseball. He has pitched in nine games in his two seasons in the Tigers’ organization, just two last year — a whopping total of 27 innings. He went on the injured list June 23 — for the fifth time — and hasn’t thrown off a mound since.
“I get reports on him every day,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said. “We’re going to get him on the mound pretty soon. But right now, I don’t really have more to add.”
Perez has battled shoulder discomfort since the first week of spring training in 2018. It has been described as general muscle weakness. Structural damage has never been reported and he’s not had one surgery.
And yet, he’s barely been on the mound in two years and there is still no timetable for when he might throw again.
“No surgery, he’s had injections (cortisone),” Avila said. “He went back to Lakeland and he’s done different workouts. As far as getting him off the mound, we just want him ready for spring training.”
The Tigers expected Perez to be knocking on the big-league door by now, just as top prospects Casey Mize and Matt Manning will be this season.
And there’s no denying the talent.
“If he’s healthy, we definitely expect that he could move up quickly,” Avila said.
When he’s been able to pitch, he’s impressed.
His fastball typically sits at 95 mph, with ride. He throws from a high arm slot, which gives the allusion of throwing downhill and he generates both swings-and-misses up in the zone and ground balls when he throws down in the zone.
He’s also shown a curveball with a 12-to-6 break and a developing slider.
That talent is why he’s still ranked No. 6 among Tigers’ prospects. But here we are, nearly six months after he was shut down and he still isn’t cleared to throw. Frustrating for him, frustrating for the organization.
He threw a career-most 86 innings in 2017. Having thrown just 7.2 innings last year, it’s going to be a slow climb for him, even if the shoulder cooperates. At this point, though, the Tigers will take any and all forward steps.
“He still has to build innings,” Avila said. “But if he’s healthy and he’s on that mound, and all we have to worry about is building innings – that will be a good thing.”
On the door step
It’s getting harder for Avila to tamper expectations with his prized pitching prospects. Mize and Manning, as well as Alex Faedo and Tarik Skubal, are expected to start the season at Triple-A Toledo. If things go the way the Tigers’ hope, Mize and Manning won’t finish the season there.
“The best-case scenario is, they go to spring training and get some experience; they go to Toledo, stay healthy and perform well,” Avila said. “At some point it would be great to have them come up (to the big leagues) and get some experience — either mid-season or at the end of the season.”
Manning, who threw 133 innings at Double-A Erie last season, will probably be restricted to maybe 180 innings in 2020. Mize, who also battled shoulder soreness, threw 109 innings in his first pro season. His innings cap will likely be closer to 150 innings.
Part of the solution
Avila was asked if he’d engaged in contract extension talks with Matthew Boyd’s agent.
“His agent is Scott Boras,” Avila said, laughing. “He’s been a little busy.”
Among Boras’ clients are the top available free agent, starter Gerrit Cole; another client, Stephen Strasburg, re-signed with the Nationals on Monday for seven years and $245 million. So, yes, he is a little busy. But the takeaway is, the Tigers see Boyd as part of the reconstruction.
“We want to get better and Matt Boyd is part of that,” Avila said. “We’re not here calling up teams, ‘Do you want Matt Boyd?’ That’s not what we’re here to do.”
That’s not to say teams needing quality starting pitching, and most contending teams do, aren’t calling and inquiring about Boyd.
“If a team is interested in Boyd, is it going to make the Detroit Tigers better,” Avila said. “And when I say better, I mean right now. We’re not looking for a prospect in Low-A ball or rookie ball. It would have to really make sense.
“I’m not out trying to sell Matt Boyd. We need him to be a good team.”
And, once things quiet down for Boras, the Tigers seem open to discussing a contract extension for Boyd, who is under team control through 2022.
Around the horn
Former Tigers' lefty Phil Coke has been making the rounds here at the winter meetings. Two years removed from Tommy John surgery, the 37-year-old is looking for a job. He hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2016.