One of the great things about following the minor league system, forecasting future Major League potential, and imagining how things might look a few years down the road is that it's really nice when one of your favorite prospects comes through.
In the case of Martin Perez, it's been a long seven years of ups and downs, which appears to be culminating before our very eyes at the Major League level with some of the best pitching in baseball thus far in the 2014 season.
It really wasn't all that long ago that it seemed, to many fans and media types, that Perez was expendable. He had gone from untouchable to rumored trade bait seemingly overnight, all despite the fact that he was arguably outpitching his age, even if his professional timeline didn't necessarily gel with it all.
We'd been hearing about Perez since 2007, when the Rangers signed him for $580,000 as a 17-year old, and he immediately began drawing comparisons to Johan Santana. Santana, at the time, was considered by many to be the best pitcher in baseball -- at least before his shoulder injuries derailed his career -- and thus, the prospect of having someone in that mold caused most to want to accelerate the professional timeline of Perez.
Of course, when you throw a teenager into that kind of mix, you should, in general, expect some bumps along the way. In was in that way that, despite reaching AA Frisco at the age of 18, many of the expectations for Perez began to wither.
By the time we had reached 2010, the thought of Perez being untouchable in a trade had faded, even if only slightly. We heard rumors that perhaps he would be moved for Roy Oswalt -- who the Rangers ended up signing two seasons later -- or even late-inning relievers such as Andrew Bailey. The Rangers, to their credit, stood their ground and maintained that Martin Perez would have a future in Arlington.
In 2013, after a few outings the season before, Perez was positioned to head into the season as the 5th starter before a line drive kept it from happening. However, by season's end, Perez was trusted enough that he was tasked with the assignment of pitching against the Tampa Bay Rays in game number 163, the tiebreaker game.
Over the winter, the Rangers penned Martin Perez to a lengthy contract extension that gives them club control through 2020. At the time, it was praised as a steal for the Rangers, but also good for a young pitcher that, in an age of injuries derailing pitching careers, would gain some financial security with the signing.
Then we have Perez's performance to start this season, which has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. After yesterday's 3-0 complete game shutout against the Oakland A's, Perez finds himself sitting at 1.2 WAR, according to Fangraphs. That leaves him tied for the American League lead for pitchers, and only 0.1 behind the best in baseball. Yu Darvish is sitting at 1.1 WAR, although he has one less start on the season than Perez.
Game scores of 88 and 82 in his last two starts leave him tied for 4th and 12th in baseball this season for single-game performances. Yu Darvish's start on April 11 against Houston was also an 88.
In other words, whether you projected Martin Perez to be a 5th starter or a potential 2nd starter -- as many scouts did in recent years -- he is, at the very least, living up to those expectations, if not exceeding them.
When you consider the contract he's under, his value becomes even greater. Below, you'll find the contractual details for Perez, per Baseball-Reference:
Even if Perez "only" ends up as a number 2 starter, that's an insanely club-friendly deal, which I guess is the whole point. The way in which Perez has managed to keep the ball down in the strike zone is a testament to how well he's adjusted as he has moved into his age 23 season, all the way from being a teenager on the farm.
Given that Yu Darvish is under club control through at least 2016, Matt Harrison through 2018, and Derek Holland through 2018, the Rangers figure to have a much more than serviceable rotation for the foreseeable future without even considering the minor league depth that will be at the club's disposal.
I guess when I really think about it, I'm just glad that the Rangers never gave up on Perez like many were so willing to do. Quality southpaws are perhaps the most difficult pitchers to develop, and the Rangers, to their credit, stayed the course and are beginning to reap the benefits now.
I'm not big on W-L records, but the Rangers have won every start that Martin Perez has made. He's kept the Rangers in each start, and with a scoreless innings streak that current sits at at 26, I'm not sure how much more you could possibly ask for, no matter where you're slotting a guy in the rotation.
While an xFIP of 3.37 might indicate that we're due some regression on the horizon for Perez, I don't care. I want to see him pitch in a Rangers uniform for a very long time, and even as recently as two seasons ago, that didn't seem like such a certainty.