Pitching prospect Martin Perez has what scouts describe as "plus stuff" and "outstanding makeup."
What might not be well known is that he also has a family-first mentality that dictates almost everything he does on and off the field.
The 180-pound Venezuelan southpaw has been influenced by family and friends his entire life. As a result, Perez is using his ability to not only make a name for himself on the mound, but to give back to the people who helped him on his way to a career in pro baseball.
Perez spoke to MiLB.com about learning a second language, overcoming a back injury and leaving his homeland to pursue his baseball dream.
MiLB.com: You've made a couple starts at your first Major League camp. How are you enjoying the experience?
Martin Perez: Everything has been good. Health-wise, I am OK, and of course, I'm doing my best to learn as much as I can so I can help the team any way I can. The mentality is a lot different from the Minor Leagues. I try to ask as much as I can because I'm the type of guy that tries to talk to everybody. I'm trying to be a good teammate and take as much as I can from all of them.
MiLB.com: As a Venezuelan left-hander, I'm sure you get asked about the comparisons with Johan Santana. How much of an honor is that?
Perez: I've never had a chance to talk to him or meet him, but I've always admired him since I was young. He was my idol. I admired him as a Major League player. I purchased one of his gloves and I always play with it. It's something that motivates me to play in the Majors. I try to emulate him, and maybe one day, I can make it to the Major Leagues and be as good as him or maybe even better.
MiLB.com: When did you start playing baseball?
Perez: Well, it was a birthday present. When I was 8 years old, my mother and father gave me a chance to play baseball, so it was early in my life that I started playing. Growing up, when I was 9 and 10 years old, I was still learning the game and watching everybody play.
Later, I had friends that were signing for Major and Minor League teams, so that was when I started thinking about playing baseball more. My coach told me I had the talent, and he said that if I develop my skills I would have a good chance to sign with a Minor League team. Now I'm here and I'm very happy. It's my turn to try to make it to the Major Leagues.
MiLB.com: You're learning English this offseason. How are you finding it?
Perez: When I made it to the Minor Leagues and came to the United States, there were a lot of things I couldn't communicate. Like how to ask for my food. I would have to ask my teammates to translate things for me. It made me work harder to try and learn English. I'm getting better and better the more I use it.
One other thing about learning English is that my family does not speak English. When they come to the United States, who is going to help them? I have to do it myself so that I can help them.
MiLB.com: Tell me about how signing with Texas came about.
Perez: I signed with the Texas Rangers because they followed me more closely. The Rangers offered me good money and that was what I was waiting for. I talked to my parents about it and that was important. The Rangers helped make my dream come true. The St. Louis Cardinals called me on July 3 to offer me a contract for $600,000, but I had to tell them I had signed with the Rangers on July 2.
MiLB.com: How did your family react when you signed?
Perez: Of course, they were happy and excited for me to sign with a Major League team. But there was another person too that also means a lot in my life and is one of the main reasons that I have signed with the Texas Rangers. Felix Olivo [of OL Baseball Group] is like a second father to me.
He has been there with me in good times and bad times, and I can always rely on him when I need someone to help me out when I struggle. He has helped me a lot and I can rely on him. He helped me a lot. He was also my agent actually.
MiLB.com: What do you miss about being back home in Venezuela the most?
Perez: It's tough when you have to leave your family. I moved away from a small town at just age 16 so I was scared of those new situations that I had never been in before. But it was what I wanted -- that was my goal.
It helped me mature to be away from my family and to be by myself from a young age. It was really tough to leave my family, but I told my parents that I was leaving because that was my dream and I wanted to fulfill it. It was a tough thing to do.
MiLB.com: What pitches do you throw?
Perez: I think my sinker is my best pitch. I'm not locating my fastball very well right now, but my breaking pitches are my best stuff. When I'm ahead in the count or with two strikes, I will use my sinker or my breaking pitches instead of my fastball.
This is what I want to do. I have to learn and keep practicing everything to perfection. Every pitch has to be Major League-ready. It's tough, but I have to try and do my best. My dream is to be here with the Rangers and go back to the World Series with them and win a World Series.
MiLB.com: You've introduced a two-seam fastball into the mix this year. When did you start working with that pitch?
Perez: I'm trying to learn as much as I can during the training camp. If I'm ahead in the count I just try to keep my pitches low, so that is where I will try and use the two-seamer or the sinker.
When you get to the Major Leagues, either they're after you or you're after them. There's always a battle between the hitter and the pitcher, so you have to do your best and develop your pitches the best you can so you can have a good result.
MiLB.com: What's your proudest baseball moment?
Perez: The biggest moment for me was when I signed and I got my shirt. I gave it all to my parents. They gave me my life and I told them that I would become a professional player. We are a poor family, so I'm very proud of that moment to sign and make that money and give it to my family. Everything changed in my family because of that money.
Also of course, I'm waiting for the moment when I can get in the Major Leagues for the first time. That's the goal I'm going to try and reach as soon as I leave the camp.
MiLB.com: You had to start 2011 in Frisco. Was that frustrating after you played there all of 2010 and part of 2009?
Perez: I know what it takes. It's a process. If you're playing at Double-A and you don't dominate, you don't deserve to go to Triple-A. That's what happened with me. I had my back problem and I didn't dominate the league. I wasn't allowed to go up. I had to go back to the next level because I didn't deserve it. I never give up and I try to do my best. That's my strength. Whatever it takes, I will do it.
MiLB.com: A back injury can sometimes be a recurring problem -- how is it now?
Perez: It's already taken care of now. I worked hard on making my back stronger and getting stronger in that area of my body. It's all in the past. I know that I'm healthy and I'm completely happy to try and compete to make the team. It's behind me now. Everything is all right.
MiLB.com: What do you need to do to be successful at Triple-A this season and earn a promotion to Texas?
Perez: I have to have control. If I'm wild, I know I will have a hard time making it to Triple-A or the Major Leagues. That is one of the things I have been working really hard on. To make it to the Majors, you have to understand that. It's very competitive. If I'm ahead in the count, I have to put hitters away. I have to have control of all of my pitches and I have to have the right mentality.