Perez wants to top last season

SURPRISE, Ariz. - Martin Perez broke out as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball last season, and he is hoping to take even another step forward this year. Lone Star Dugout sat down with the 18-year-old pitching prospect for a Q&A session.

Left-hander Martin Perez broke out as not only the top left-handed pitching prospect in the Texas Rangers organization last season, but also perhaps in all of baseball.

The Venezuela native began his season at Single-A Hickory, where he posted a 2.31 earned-run average in 93.2 innings. Over that span, he allowed 82 hits while walking 33 and striking out 105.

More important than the results though, Perez's stuff continued to progress in all areas. He gained another tick of velocity on his fastball–working anywhere between 91-95 mph [touching 96] and often sitting in the 92-94 range during games. His curveball remained a solid, seemingly future plus pitch, and his changeup took a major step forward. As Perez explains below, he believes his changeup, which features excellent deception, fade and sink, became his second-best pitch last season.

Although Perez was just 18-years-old last season [and he turned 18 just before opening day], the Rangers moved him up to Double-A Frisco for the final month of the season.

Perez often worked up in the zone with his fastball in the Low-A South Atlantic League, generally blowing the ball by hitters. However, he was unable to do that in the Texas League, and he found out in a hurry, as he surrendered eight hits in 2.2 innings in his debut start.

Most 18-year-old pitchers wouldn't be able to handle the promotion, but Perez did just fine. After a rough two outings, the prospect began to make adjustments. Instead of working in the low-to-mid-90s, Perez sat between 89-91 mph, topping out at 92 and 93 on occasion, during his third start–at San Antonio on August 25. In that game, he tossed five scoreless innings, giving up just four hits, walking zero, and striking out three.

As Perez matures, he will likely learn to command his power stuff down in the zone. He will work on doing just that as a 19-year-old [on April 4] in the Double-A Texas League this season.

Jason Cole: I want to go back to last year, when you got promoted to Double-A Frisco. Were you expecting to get a promotion there before the end of the season?

Martin Perez: Last year, I wasn't thinking at all about moving up in the league. I just wanted to work from the start of the season and try to do as well as I could. After I started off real well, a couple of the guys in the front office told me, ‘If you keep doing your job like this, we're going to put you in a higher league.'

They didn't exactly tell me where, but they did tell me that if I kept doing my job the way I was, I would be somewhere higher by the end of the year. I didn't know it would be Frisco, but they told me I was more or less on the same track as Neftali Feliz if I kept doing what I was doing.

Cole: You got five starts in Frisco. How did you feel about the way you pitched in those outings?

Perez: After my first start, I didn't exactly do as well as I thought I would do. I kind of came in with the same approach I used when I was in Hickory–that I could use my fastball and dominate with the speed on my fastball. But I soon realized that in Double-A, those guys can hit speed. I had to learn to locate my pitches and put the pitch in the right spot. It wasn't how hard I threw–it was where I threw it.

Cole: Your last three starts with Frisco was much better than your first two. Did you make any adjustments in that game?

Perez: After that first start, my mental adjustment was to not worry about how hard I was throwing. It was more where I was throwing it. I wanted to get my location down. I wanted to get hitters out and go deeper into games. I wasn't out there in the first inning reaching back with my fastball. I was trying to work smart by getting ahead of every hitter so I could get deep into the game. I didn't want to get behind hitters early.

Cole: How far did you feel your changeup came developmentally last year?

Perez: With the changeup, they were telling me that I needed to make the changeup better–that I needed to work on the changeup. I knew I have a good fastball and I always have a good feel for my curveball. But the changeup was the one pitch that I focused on completely in the offseason and coming into camp.

I feel I have made the adjustment. It used to be my third pitch, but now I feel like I can throw it anytime I want in any count for a strike. I feel like I've got total command of it. I have made big strides there.

Cole: Did you make any adjustments to how you throw the changeup or were you just simply throwing it more often?

Perez: The adjustment had nothing to do with the way I held it, arm slot, or anything like that–the adjustment was mainly releasing the ball out front to try and throw it over for a strike. I wasn't trying to do anything fancy. I just wanted to put it where I want it. So throwing it out front and getting my release point out on it so I could get that sinking action.

Cole: You got to go to the minicamp in Arlington late in the offseason, and you also accepted the award for Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year that weekend. What was that experience like for you?

Perez: Obviously I'm thankful and I know I'm blessed for receiving the award. It was a great feeling and a great experience. But right now, that's out of my head. I want to focus on this year and do everything I can to try and top what I did last year. I want to make all the adjustments that they ask me to make so I can help the team win. Maybe, sooner or later, I'll help the Major League team win.

Cole: Coming into this season, is there one area of your game that you really want to improve more than anything else?

Perez: You can always get better and you can never stop working, so I'm going to keep working hard this year. If I could say one thing that I need to work on this year, it's my head. Sometimes my head will lean, which will also make my body lean to one direction. I'm trying to stay balanced and through the strike zone.

Cole: You'll be going to Frisco for the 2010 season. Do you have any expectations for yourself as far as moving up or what you'd like to accomplish personally?

Perez: Right now, my mind is just focused on pitching. I'm open to anything they say–any adjustment I need to make or anything I need to do. My goal is to not just pitch in Double-A, but also maybe help the big league team this year or next year–as soon as I can. I want to be there as soon as I can and help them win.

As always, thanks to Michael Ortiz for helping translate the interview!

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