I love following the players in spring training that sign on with the Twins as minor league free agents. These are the guys that used to be big names or a high draft choices, and either got injured or haven’t fulfilled their promise yet. Think guys like J.R. Towles and Sean Burroughs.
April 2, 2011; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Rafael Perez (53) during the eighth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field. The White Sox beat the Indians 8-3. Mandatory Credit: Jason Miller-USA TODAY Sports
But for every Joel Zumaya who comes and goes without getting back to The Show with the Twins, there’s a Jared Burton who breaks camp with the big league club and reinvents himself as a quality contributor. Actually, it’s probably more like one Burton for every five Zumayas.
The Twins have invited 26 non-roster players to spring training at this point, but that number could change in the next week or so if Terry Ryan picks up some scraps between now and the start of camp. Seven of those players signed on as minor league free agents from other organizations, and will be spending their first spring in a Twins uniform.
In theory, at least, these guys will have a chance to compete for a spot on the big-league club. The Twins, however, tend to prefer to promote players from within the organization. These guys will, with a couple of possible exceptions, be facing an uphill battle in Fort Meyers over the coming weeks.
Perez, who was signed to a minor-league contract last week with an invitation to spring training and reported to camp Saturday, is a former dominant lefty setup man for Cleveland, averaging over a strikeout per inning in his first two-plus season with the Indians. In 2009, however, his numbers fell off the table and he had shoulder surgery in September of this year to hopefully right a lingering problem that caused his K/9 rate to plummet over the past two years to basically half of what it was at his peak. And that peak was no joke: analyst Peter Gammons reportedly referred to Perez as, “arguably the best left-handed reliever on the planet” in 2007, Perez’s first full season in the majors. The Indians non-tendered Perez this year two months after his September surgery.
Apparently, the Twins want to give Perez a shot at starting this spring. He was primarily a starter in the minors, and the majority of his experience as a reliever came with Cleveland once he was called up to The Show. The question then, is does this mean that the Twins are more concerned than they’re letting on that one or more of their projected starters won’t be ready for Opening Day, or is this simply a case of taking a flier on a guy who has had success in the past and trying him in a new role post-surgery to see if he can rejuvenate his career?
Perez has dominated the Twins over the course of his career, with a 1.38 ERA. However, as Aaron Gleeman astutely points out, Perez’s out pitch at the height of his career was his slider, but he’s used it with increasing frequency over the past few years to the point that batters expect to see it more often than not. The hope is that September’s surgery will allow Perez to return to the pitch mix that kept batters off balance and the base paths.
Did you know?
An LAPD officer also named Rafael Perez was caught stealing over $800,000 worth of cocaine from a police evidence locker in 1998. Besides being a former cop, he’s also a reputed member of the Bloods and a prime suspect in the murder of The Notorious BIG, and was on Death Row CEO Suge Knight’s payroll as a bodyguard at the time of his convicted and alleged crimes. If you’d like to read more about cocaine, Tim Raines and baseball, check out this past Sunday’s Twins Porn.
Chances of making the Twins out of spring training:
There are so many unknowns with Perez at this point, that the best I can give him is an Incomplete. How will his recovery from surgery progress? To what degree did his shoulder issues contribute to his dramatic drop in effectiveness? Will the Twins ultimately decide to use him as a starter or reliever? He’s a young 30, having signed out of the Dominican Republic at age 20, so does he have more life left in his arm than your average 30-year-old pitcher?
He could be a barometer of the health of the Twins ideal starting rotation, and the important thing to watch at this point in the spring with Perez may not be how he progresses post-surgery, but rather how the Twins decide to develop him moving towards April 1st: as a potential third lefty out of the bullpen, or as a stop-gap starter to cover for one of the penciled-in members of the rotation who might not be ready to go Opening Day.