Prospect House is a column by Mauricio Rubio Jr. It is named for Gucci Mane’s 2005 album, Trap House.
I have a deep desire to rank things both baseball-related and otherwise. To a degree the desire is a function of my love of writing about prospects but it’s also a byproduct of how I am wired. My rankings can get obscenely complex and when the margins between two or more items or players is thin enough I spend hours and sometimes days debating the pros and cons on both sides of the ledger.
The lower minors have a wonderfully charming quality to them in that you get spurts of greatness and promise interspersed between large swaths of unfortunate play by a seemingly never ending swarm of non-prospects. The bad accentuates the good and it makes the great seem like a promise delivered by whatever deity you choose to believe in.
For a while there, two of the most promising arms in the league and arguably all the minors plied their craft on back to back days, and as the season advanced they even started to pitch on the same day as a tandem starter system. As I mentioned before you can go through long droughts in the low minors before seeing any promise, so when Franklin Perez and Albert Abreu toe the rubber on consecutive nights it stands out.
Perez was a 2014 J2 signing, inked for one million dollars along with Miguel Angel Sierra (who received the same amount). Perez split 2015 between the Dominican Summer League and the Gulf Coast League where he posted big strikeout numbers in limited innings. He works 90-94 his fastball, shows a plus change, and has a curve that flashes plus when he stays on top it. What separates Perez’s profile from other Low-A starters is his advanced feel for pitching. The stuff is clearly present but Perez adds and subtracts to/from his curve, elevates his fastball as the situation dictates, and attacks righties and lefties with a change he shows heavy confidence in. His delivery and frame suggest that the command can get to plus and his mound demeanor suggests that he’ll have the courage and competitiveness to use his repertoire to its fullest potential.
Abreu has the much louder arsenal. He can charge his fastball up to 96 on occasion and there’s room to add to the frame, inspiring hope that he can hold velocity in the mid-to-upper-90s range going forward. Abreu’s curveball is a bastard of an offering that comes in with sharp bite and excellent depth. It’s a weapon against lefties and righties, and projects to miss bats at the highest level. Abreu’s flaw is tepid fastball command that can get him into trouble, as he can get stiff with his lower half and when he reaches back for velocity he can fall off hard to the first base side. He has the athleticism to project average command on the fastball and average command overall but the risk for middling control numbers are there.
I’ve learned over the past few years that risk management and reducing player risk is a key factor for some front offices when it comes to baseball decisions. Ranking two such arms offers an interesting point of debate where philosophies and ideologies clash. High risk, high reward players offer a load of risk but the payoff can be extreme given the talent level and projection. It’s difficult to replace that level of upside with a safe high-floor lower-ceiling player but high-floor guys with plus-upside can be just as rare to find.
I rank Perez ahead of Abreu for a few different factors: Perez has more safety and a lower ceiling but he is not a low-ceiling arm. He’s only 18 years old but Perez offers a measure of safety that is rare in the Midwest League and doubly so for someone his age. He has the hallmark qualities of a mid-rotation arm and if his command overshoots my projection he has a chance to be something more. Abreu has a load of talent. The stuff is loud, the body is projectable, and if he figures out the fastball command he is going to be a monster but the command issues and occasional spurts of stiff mechanics ding him in my mind. Both arms have a shot at being top-level contributors at the highest level, Franklin Perez just also happens to offer up a safer profile in spite of his years.
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