Name: Ryan Perez
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 190
In 2008, Pat Venditte generated more talk than a typical 20th-round selection out of a four-year college, simply because he was a switch-pitcher. Many scouts gave Venditte little chance to make the big leagues. Despite posting at least average production at each level, Venditte was never given a chance at the major league level with his original organization, the New York Yankees. Venditte is currently pitching in big league camp with the Oakland A’s, however, and is making a legitimate push for a major league roster spot.
I bring up Venditte because he is an example of a player who has generated a significant amount of buzz throughout his career despite never being given the label of a high-profile prospect. Now imagine if he was considered a high-profile prospect. That is the story of Judson University junior Ryan Perez.
The story of how Perez became a switch-pitcher is one that will surely solicit debate. He was naturally right-handed, but his father that made him throw left-handed. The story goes that kids would throw rocks at a pond near where they lived. His dad was okay with this as long as Perez only threw left-handed. In time he was allowed to throw right-handed, but only if he continued to throw left-handed.
The story picks up several years later when Perez was in high school. Before his senior year, he needed Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He could have done what most would have done and sat out the year. For a player like Perez though, missing his senior year could have meant the end of his baseball career. He was more a draft curiosity than a draft prospect coming out of high school even though he was already hitting the low 90s. Rather than miss his senior season, he elected to pitch from the left side for the year. Once he entered Judon University, Perez continued to pitch only left-handed during his freshman year of school.
The injury turned out to be a hidden blessing. It allowed him to refine his delivery from the left side, which was not as strong as his naturally dominant right side. After those two years throwing exclusively as a left-hander, Perez would throw right-handed just in relief or late in a game during key matchups. As he developed, Perez became the Friday ace for Judson, going deep in most games primarily as a lefty. He would then come out of the bullpen every week working from both the right and left sides. The wear-and-tear of this heavy workload did not come without consequences, however.
Judson University is an NAIA school, so it is often harder to find information or news about the baseball team. After a heavy pitching load as a junior during which he threw 111 innings in 24 games, Perez has pitched a total of three innings this year at Judson. He has been sidelined with what is being described as a minor injury, but it is one that has cost him more than a month of play.
Perez is a legit prospect from both sides, as he sits in the low 90’s and has shown the ability to get hitters out from either side. According to the consensus reports on Perez, he is clearly best from the left side, however. Unfortunately, there are no splits available for Perez online. I will go more into the numbers in a bit, but it would be helpful to see if one side was more prone to command trouble or hard hits.
Despite coming from an NAIA school, Perez was invited to the Cape Cod League, an indication that he is regarded as a potential draft prospect. In the Cape, he faced a higher level of competition and worked mostly out of the bullpen. He fared well in limited innings there. I think long-term the bullpen is where he will end up. I know that is not the story people expect for a switch-pitcher, but his career outlook is much brighter as a lefty than as a righty. As teams want to maximize value, they might make him a full-time lefty. That’s not to say they would never use him as a righty, but his stuff as a righty is average and as a lefty it plays up a lot more.
Perez appeared to struggle with command in 2014, walking 45, hitting eight batters and throwing 13 wild pitches. It is hard to say if those numbers are a true indication of command issues. I have not been able to see him in person and am mostly comparing him to his peers on Judson and other NAIA schools. His numbers were higher than his peers at Judson in walks and wild pitches. His control seems okay and the walk total would not be an issue, but I just can’t help but think his command needs work when I look at the three combined numbers. This is the innate problem with scouting from video clips and numbers. I don’t know what is typical for the level, so I have to infer a bit. I just know those numbers give me a pause when I see them at any level.
I worry about the numbers for Perez. He struck out 92 for Judson and had a 2.35 ERA. Those are both very good numbers, but even playing against NAIA-level competition, he got hit harder than any pitcher on his squad in terms of extra base hits, and I mentioned my concern with his command before. This is often a deadly combo for pitchers. Maybe he will show improvement in either area once he gets a chance to pitch this year. It’s also possible that professional coaching will clean up his mechanics and tighten up his command.
There is no comp section with this profile because no one in baseball offers the same skill-set besides Venditte, who doesn’t throw as hard as Perez. There will be a ton of hype surrounding Perez because he is a legitimate switch-pitcher. He can throw from either side. Yet what he brings as a lefty out of the pen will likely overshadow what he can do as a righty. There is a danger of a great story getting in the way of scouting Perez’s draft stock. Minus the hype, I believe he is absolutely someone who should be drafted and what he brings simply as a lefty should make him a top-10 round pick.
More than likely, Perez is going to be a guy who needs more development time than a typical college player, in part because of the injury issues he has already faced and also because he is coming out of the NAIA and not Division I NCAA. In addition, there is no doubt that being a switch-pitcher has stunted his growth from either side as a pitcher. He has had focus on mechanics and pitching from both sides instead of one, and naturally that additional focus has taken away from his ability to refine his mechanics on either side. Lastly, the fact he is just six feet tall will also be an issue for some teams.
I hate to sound negative with any player, as they have done so much to get to this point, but my concern is that the story of Perez the switch-pitcher has over-shadowed the story of Perez the baseball player. He will be an interesting player to watch and is far from a finished product. I think if I were in the scouting or player development departments of a team, Ryan Perez the left-handed pitcher who can hit 94 and shows a curveball and change-up from that side is a lot more helpful to the future of my team than is switch-pitcher Ryan Perez.