The age gap doesn't bother Frisco RoughRiders left-hander Martin Perez
Neither do changeups, the language barrier or the comparisons to big leaguers past and present.
"One of the reasons I think I'm here is because Texas believes I will be able to pitch in the big leagues sometime soon," said Perez, with catcher Elio Sarmiento interpreting, before a recent game. "I will be ready and all I want to do right now is try to stick to my work and no matter what level I'm at I'll try to perform."
Perez, who just turned 19, took a $580,000 bonus to sign out of Venezuela with the Rangers at the ripe age of 16. With a plus fastball and a biting curve, he has so far stayed on the fast track, opening this season in the Texas League in just his third professional year.
"Just the fact that I was 16 years old and being away from my family and home was a big challenge for me, a big responsibility," Perez said. "I took the challenge and I faced it and I feel good about it."
In three starts, Perez has yet to get a decision but has posted a 2.31 ERA with 14 strikeouts versus six walks in 11 2/3 innings. He still has a number of things to work on, and the Rangers are expected to handle him with care.
"Not everybody signs when they're 16," Frisco pitching coach Jeff Andrews said. "But obviously he showed somebody that he had some potential and a good arm and was athletic and could make progress to become a Major League pitcher. I don't think it's crazy young."
When he signed, Perez had a fastball in the mid-80s, and his top speed now can approach the mid-90s. Perez went 5-5 with a 2.31 ERA at Class A Hickory of the South Atlantic League last year and was ranked by some as the league's No. 1 prospect.
After a late-season promotion to Frisco, Perez was roughed up in his first game against Tulsa and didn't get past the third inning.
"Coming out of low A he used a lot of his fastballs down there," Sarmiento said. "So coming out here he was facing a lot of experienced batters and guys who were going to be able to hit that fastball, so that was his biggest adjustment."
Andrews said Perez was probably a little too pumped for his first Double-A start. But Perez adjusted and finished 1-3 with a 5.57 ERA in the Texas League and returned this year trying to sharpen his changeup.
"That's a pitch I trust with him since I've met him and we've played together," Sarmiento said. "I think it's been there all the time. Basically his fastball is the pitch he's always going to go to because he's young and all that stuff. But, yeah, his changeup is progressing at the same time."
With a 6-0, 165-pound frame, Perez has drawn comparisons to former big leaguer Ron Guidry, and some went as far as to call Perez "The Venezuelan Gator" after Guidry. Because of his size, Perez has also been compared to Johan Santana, and Perez accepts the compliment.
"It's not in your size, it's in your soul," Perez said. "[Santana] brings everything he's got in there when he pitches. He performs like a giant and does everything like a guy who is 6-5."
Moustakas Mashes: After going 3-for-4 with two home runs and four RBIs in his debut with Northwest Arkansas, Kansas City prospect Mike Moustakas hasn't slowed down much. Through his first four games, the third baseman was batting .471 with three home runs and eight RBI.
Home on the Range: Frisco RoughRiders manager Steve Buechele, in only his second year as a manager in the Texas Rangers organization, is pleased with his promotion to Frisco for a number of reasons.
"I don't know about a homecoming, but it sure is nice," said Buechele, who broke in with the Rangers in 1985, played all or part of eight seasons with the club and lives in the Rangers' home of Arlington. "Frisco is close to home, so I can live at home half the time. I feel very lucky to work for the organization that I came up with."
Catching the Shuffle: The Arkansas Travelers had their first player move when catcher Brian Walker was called up to Triple-A Salt Lake in a shuffle caused by injuries to Los Angeles Angels backstops Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson. The Angels sent Nolan Brannon from extended spring training to Arkansas.