Minnesota Twins Hoping Reliever Rafael Perez Can Bring Starter Upside

By Thom Tsang
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Just how many soft-tossing, low-strikeout, ground ball-type arms can the Minnesota Twins bring into Spring Training this season?

How about one more?

The team signed left-hander Rafael Perez to a minor league deal today, adding to their camp a pitcher that missed almost all of last season due to back and shoulder issues that eventually required surgery to fix, but one whose stuff will fit right in with the Twins’ starting rotation – or so they hope.

The thing is, though, Perez isn’t a starter, and he has never made a start on a big league mound.

What he has been, on the other hand, was an effective reliever for the Cleveland Indians over 2010 and 2011, having made 140 appearances between those two seasons with a 3.12 ERA. In fact, his 1.2 fWAR over those seasons made him the second most valuable reliever on the Tribe, second only to Vinnie Pestano.

The Twins hope that the non-tendered free agent can bring that kind of value to the team at some point in the future – just not necessarily as a reliever:


The last time Perez was used as a starter, it was back in 2007 at the AAA level, where he enjoyed mild success over seven starts, posting a 3.66/1.37 ERA/WHIP.

The 30-year old is now five years removed from that, and getting back to that the rigors of starting will likely be a lengthy road that won’t see Perez have any real impact with the Twins anytime soon.

That said, it’s also an experiment that can end very quickly due to his shoulder issues which, as Minnesota is probably aware, is likely related to Perez’s pitch selection.

Specifically, his penchant for sliders. It’s by far the lefty’s go-to weapon on the mound, and at 60.5 percent of his total pitches thrown, only Carlos Marmol threw it more (starter or otherwise) than Perez did in 2011. That also happens to be a pitch that’s particularly taxing on the arm, as Marmol’s career-low fastball velocity that year at attest to.

Already coming off one shoulder surgery, it’s doubtful whether Perez will be able to handle being stretched out to a full starter’s workload, even if he reduces the frequency of his favourite pitch significantly (Madison Bumgarner‘s 39 percent was the league high by starters), considering that it’s already eaten his arm alive once.

That’s not to say the Twins have made a bad move, of course, only that the plan to stretch him out may not yield the result they desire. Even as a failed starter, Perez could just as easily have an impact on the Twins’ bullpen.

It’s where he’s had success before, and if there’s one team that knows the value of low-strikeout types, it’s probably the Minnesota Twins.

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