In our almost-pleasant conversation with Astros Director of Pro Scouting Kevin Goldstein (he made fun of musicians Pat and I like), he mentioned a lower-level pitcher on more than one occasion: Franklin Perez. Who is this guy?
Though he grew up mainly playing basketball, and was a former 3B when he played baseball, 6'4" 200lb RHP Franklin Perez was signed as an international free agent on July 2, 2014 to a $1m bonus. In the 2014 off-season FanGraphs said that his fastball/curveball combination with a smooth delivery showed "above-average potential." Baseball America ranked him as their #15 international prospect.
Perez made his professional debut in 2015, starting off with the DSL Astros. In 11 games (35IP), he allowed 34H/17ER, 44K:11BB - a 4.37 ERA to go along with an 11.3 K/9 rate...at Age 17, two years younger than his average DSL competition. This is one of the aspects Goldstein told us to watch: the 4.37 ERA combined with the age relative to the league.
His strikeout rate was enough to promote him Stateside. He finished 2015 with the GCL Astros and, in 15IP, he struck out 17 batters in 15IP. Still in his Age 17 season, Perez was 3.4 years younger than his competition.
John Sickels put Perez at #12 on the 2016 Astros' top prospect list back in February - before his big year at Quad Cities - noting his K/BB rate and K/IP rate as "more reflective of his talent," with a promising fastball, curveball, and changeup.
The Astros promoted him straight to Quad Cities in 2016 and he rewarded their faith in his talent. In 66.2IP in the Midwest League - again, 3.8 years younger than his average competition - Perez struck out 75 batters in 66.2IP, allowing 63H/21ER, 75K:19BB - a 2.84 ERA/1.23 WHIP. In 13 of his 15 appearances for Quad Cities Perez struck out a greater or equal number of batters as innings he pitched. He walked three batters in just two of those 15 outings.
A month after Perez struck out seven batters in 5IP, River Bandits manager Omar Lopez said of Perez after he struck out nine batters in 5IP in August:
What's special about Perez is the mindset that he has. He's a strong kid and he works hard every single day. He knows what he needs to do in order to develop his pitch ability and also his stuff. He's been able to accomplish every goal we've put on his development plan for this year. So I think the commitment that he has and the discipline he's displayed this year has proven that he can be consistent.
Ultimately Perez sits low- to mid-90s with a heavy strike percentage. His bulky frame supports his velocity, but with two plus breaking pitches - a curveball and slider - with the curve a much more projectable pitch. And he'll be 19 in December.