Martin Perez is the most heralded international signee in recent memory for the Texas Rangers. The Venezuelan southpaw was considered the top left-hander available in the 2007 international market, and thanks to the hard work and brilliance of the Rangers' scouting department, most notably A.J. Preller, Don Welke, and Manny Batista, Perez signed for $580,000.
It's easy to sit here and wax hyperbolic about the promise Martin Perez has to offer. He clearly represents top-of-the-rotation potential, and despite his young age (17), Perez is slated to start the '09 season in Low-A Hickory's prospect-laden rotation. With his advanced arsenal and natural feel for pitching, Perez stands on the cusp of becoming one of the very best prospects in minor league baseball.
Martin Perez has all the physical gifts necessary to be a major league pitcher, but his finest attribute, the one that could take his natural skill set to the next level, is his intelligence. Perez has an exceptionally precocious mind that always seems to be a few steps ahead of everybody else. If his ability to retain and process information can translate to the mound, the Texas Rangers could be looking at a player that hints at the physical gifts of a Johan Santana in combination with the intellectual gifts of a Greg Maddux (obviously I'm not trying to suggest Perez will be equal to Santana or Maddux). Basically, Martin Perez, much like Michael Main, is the complete package; the perfect storm of pitching prospects.
I had the privilege of speaking with Perez during the Fall Instructional League, and if you hadn't guessed by now, I came away quite impressed. We discussed the circumstances that led up to his signing with the Rangers, as well as the pressures associated with being a 17-year-old playing professional baseball 4,000 miles away from home.
● ● ● ● ●
Q: When did you start playing baseball? Did you dream of being a professional baseball player when you were growing up in Venezuela?
Perez: I started playing at nine years old, but I never thought I would be a professional. I never thought that. But I had a friend that said to me you know, you could be signed, you could get a scholarship because of your age. Then I began to practice with him everyday from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at night. I told my father that I was tired, but he said, “No, you have to keep going."
Q: Can you describe the signing process? What were some of the events that led to you becoming a member of the Texas Rangers?
Perez: Eventually, I was advised by some baseball people in Venezuela and one of them said that he wanted to take me to Valencia so that I could begin practicing with him. He also said that he believed he could get me signed after one year of training. I said, "Are you sure?" and he told me to relax and that he definitely felt he could. He warned me that it wasn't going to be anything like playing at home, but I decided to go in 2006.
After about three months, I was waking up at 5:00 a.m., and I hate mornings. I would eat breakfast, but then eat nothing else until 5:00 p.m. because of practice. Eventually, my family became concerned that they were giving me too much work and said that I could not go on in such a way. At that point, I didn't want to continue on, so my family told them to send me home.
They let me go home and I rested for all of December. Then I said to my mom, "Do I have to go back to Valencia for the whole next year?" She said, "We will have to wait and see, but calm down, I really believe that you will be signed soon."
So I left for Valencia again and began to practice really, really hard. The coaches began to say that they had never seen talent like this. We continued to practice my pitching really hard and people kept noticing. They gave me a lot of coaching about my pitches. There was a lot of, I don't know, envy within those people. Many people spoke to me a lot and they also caused a lot of problems.
One day they finally came to me and said that I need to be home by July 2nd, because I was going to be signed. So of course, that day I was at home just waiting and hoping and waiting and hoping they would arrive. At 11:30 in my house I signed. The next day, the St. Louis Cardinals called me and said, “Martin, we want to offer you $600,000," but I had to tell them that I signed with the Texas Rangers.
Q: Let's take a quick step back and talk about your pitching arsenal. What pitches do you throw and can you show me the grips you use?
Q: What pitch needs the most work?
Perez: I definitely have to improve my change-up.
Q: Wait, so you aren't already Johan Santana?
Perez: [Laughing] No, no, no. Johan is the best.
Q: Have you heard the Johan Santana comparisons? How does that make you feel to be compared to such a great Venezuelan pitcher?
Perez: Sure, I started hearing them when I was still in Venezuela. It makes me feel good, but I'm just Martin. I'm not like anybody else.
Q: Were you afraid to make the jump all the way to short-season Spokane at such a young age? Did you anticipate such an advanced promotion? Can you describe the process?
Perez: In January I went to the Dominican Republic, before coming here [to Surprise] and I completed my training there just fine. I did my work. Then I came here for spring training and I pitched pretty well. Then they asked me if I wanted to pitch in Spokane and I said that I didn't really want to and I even talked with Wilfredo [Boscan] about it, because you know we are some of the youngest players.
They understood that being so young makes it difficult, but if I go and pitch there I will get much better. But I am the youngest in the league and I had to question myself about what I was choosing to do. People asked, "Have you made the right decision, you are very young after all," but I didn't want to pack my bags twice. I felt the pressure because I am the youngest of the league. I thought I had been doing all of this hard work so that they could send me to Spokane.
So we waited to see who would be on the list. We practiced that Wednesday and Thursday, but the whole time I was feeling the pressure of who was going to be on the list. After practice we were standing around waiting for them to read the list, Wilfredo [Boscan] was there, and they started reading. They said many names and I thought mine was never going to come, but they finally said it, "Martin Perez." I was so excited! In the end it worked out.
Q: What was it like when you finally stepped on the rubber to pitch in a minor league game?
Perez: The first time I started in Spokane it was bad, but I finished well and in the end it all went well.
Q: How would you describe your first professional season?
Perez: I just started to pitch better and stronger and little by little I got better by the end. They named me the MVP. Everything has gone well for me since I signed. I left my studies behind for another career and everything has worked out well thanks to my family's support.
Q: What are some of your goals going into next season?
Perez: My objective is to start in Clinton [Hickory] and to be sure I am the best. If I begin well, I know I will continue to do a good job pitching there.
Q: What was it like playing in the Unites States, separated from everything that was familiar to you?
Perez: It's not easy if you don't know the language. If you come from Venezuela, like me, you have to get used to how difficult it can be here in the states. You are alone and bored, but that's what you have to do if you are going to be here for years without family, without friends, without anyone. It is hard, but it's worth it.
Q: How do you deal with that isolation at such a young age?
Perez: I left my house at the age of fifteen and I am the youngest of my family, so I felt really alone. Little by little you realize that without your family around you, you have to develop another kind of attitude. You have to focus on other things. But it's something you have to work at little by little, to get used to being alone.
Q: You mentioned how hard it can be if you don't know the language. How is your English progressing? Are you making an effort to learn?
Perez: Yes, I have learned a little English, but it is more difficult because it feels like everything is backwards. Some of the other guys try to teach me.
Q: Who are some of the pitchers in the Rangers system that impress you with their ability? Who makes you sit up and take notice?
Perez: Wilfredo Boscan, Wilmer Font, and Carlos Pimentel. No question.
Q: How do you deal with the pressures associated with being a top prospect?
Perez: There is a little bit of pressure, but I control it. I have learned to just concentrate on the game and block everything else out. You have to. You can't worry about what others are thinking, just focus on what you are there to do.
● ● ● ● ●
Gracias, mi amigo Martin, y espero que tengas salud y suerte en el año que viene.