Detroit acquired a trio of prospects from Houston last night in exchange for Justin Verlander. Two of those prospects appeared on our updated Astros top-10 list and will likely occupy a similar place in Detroit’s improving system. Before we examine the state of the Tigers’ minor-league talent, however, let’s talk about the three young men who were just traded for one of this century’s best right-handed pitchers.
The centerpiece of this package is 19-year-old Venezuelan righty Franklin Perez. Perez began the year with three dominant starts in High-A before he was shelved for a month with knee soreness. His results have been mixed but generally positive since his late-May return. Despite a few hiccups, Perez was promoted to Double-A in July and has struggled with strike-throwing at times while missing fewer bats than he did in A-ball. But ultimately, we’re talking about a 19-year-old who, despite initially training in Venezuela as a third baseman, has already pitched his way to Double-A and who, when healthy and rested, shows an ability to locate and sequence four quality big-league offerings.
Perez, who has a deceptive, vertical arm slot, features a mid-90s fastball that tops out around 96. It has grounder-inducing plane when Perez is locating it down and it’s quick enough to miss bats up at the letters, where he most frequently works with it. He also has feel for locating an above-average curveball and flashes a fading, above-average changeup. There’s a work-in-progress slider here, too, and if it improves enough to usurp the curveball – which is better suited as a change-of-pace strike pitch – as Perez’s primary way to miss bats against righties, then he could be a monster.
Pitchers with an arm slot as high as Perez’s sometimes struggle with east/west fastball command, but he’s athletic and has made it work so far. He’s physically mature and advanced in many facets of pitching for a teenager, varying his delivery’s timing to mess with hitters al la Johnny Cueto (something I think is becoming more common among young pitching prospects) and sequencing his pitches with veteran creativity. Please enjoy this early-season sequence to Corey Ray.
Perez has already thrown 20 more innings this year than he did in all of 2016, and Houston had been spacing out his starts to lighten his load for the last few weeks. It’s possible fatigue is the cause of his aforementioned mixed results. There are no questions about Perez’s ability to start due to a lack of control, nor depth or repertoire; scouts would just like to see him prove he has 200-inning stamina. He appears to have the frame and athleticism to reach that mark, eventually. With a plus fastball, changeup, two complementary breaking balls and the aptitude to deploy them all in concert with one another, he could be dominant.
I think you can make a good argument that Perez is Detroit’s best prospect, if you prefer his polish to Matt Manning’s untamed hellaciousness. I have him No. 2 behind Matt Manning, who I think is a superior athlete with a better arm and breaking ball.
Daz Cameron, with whom you’ve probably been familiar since he was 17, was also sent to Detroit. Cameron was an early riser among the 2015 high-school class in part because he was one of that group’s older prospects (he was 18 years, 4 months on draft day) but also because he was quite talented. As the rest of that class caught up to Cameron physically, his tools looked less impressive in comparison, but his complete skill set and mature feel for baseball continued to stand out.
Ahead of the draft, Cameron was largely viewed as a future average everyday player with a chance to be a bit more than that if his bat maxed out. The Astros, who had a huge signing bonus pool in 2015 because of the early pick they received after failing to sign Brady Aiken, wielded enough financial might to move Cameron back to their competitive-balance pick at 37 overall and give him a $4 million bonus, the same amount Kyle Tucker got at 5 overall.
Cameron struggled with an aggressive full-season assignment in 2016, his first full pro season, but thrived after a demotion to short-season ball. This year, he was again assigned to the Midwest League and struggled for two months before taking off in June. His numbers have improved in each month.
Cameron doesn’t have huge tools. He’s patient, has good breaking-ball recognition, above-average bat speed, some pull-side pop, and a short stroke. His bat control is just okay, and he does swing and miss at some pitches he just can’t get to, but I think he’ll be a fringe-to-average hitter with fringe game power. As a future average defender in center field, that type of bat is right on the line that plays every day.
The last piece in the deal is C Jake Rogers, the team’s third rounder from 2016 out of Tulane. He’s the best defensive catching prospect I’ve seen, a polished receiver and cat-like ball-blocker with a plus arm. He also has patience and power (the latter of which I think he’ll get to in games), though I anticipate Rogers will swing and miss much more than he has this year as he moves through the minors. His glove, alone, makes him a likely big leaguer, at least as an uber-gloved backup. If he does anything with the bat — .250/.315/.405 is league average at catcher right now, folks — he’s an everyday guy, and even though he’s a 22-year-old college hitter doing damage in A-ball, Rogers looks more likely to do that than amateur scouts anticipated. It’s why he fell to round three.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.