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Injuries forcing Rangers to take wraps off prospect Perez

After years of hype, Martin Perez will finally be making his major league debut. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

To anyone who pays even passing attention to prospect lists, the name Martin Perez is a familiar one. Signed out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old in 2007, the lefty has been featured on no fewer than four Baseball America Top 100 Prospects lists while drawing comparisons to countryman Johan Santana thanks to a mid-90s fastball and an outstanding changeup. Perez's stock has fallen somewhat as he's leveled off at Double-A and Triple-A; while he rated as the minors' top lefthanded pitching prospect coming into the 2010 season according to experts such as Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein and ESPN's Keith Law, he has fallen from 10th to 31st on BA's Top 100 over the past two years.

Even so, the 21-year-old southpaw will now get a chance to show off his wares at the big league level, as the Rangers recalled Perez from Triple-A Round Rock on Tuesday. With Colby Lewis going on the disabled list and Scott Feldman returning to the rotation, Perez will join a bullpen that could use a breather after throwing eight innings on Monday.

Perez's numbers at Round Rock aren't much to get excited about. In 15 starts, he's put up a 4.59 ERA, keeping the ball on the ground (47 percent groundball rate) and in the park (0.6 homers per nine) -- always sound strategy in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League -- but struggling with his control, walking 4.1 men per nine while striking out just 5.2. Those stats are a step back from what he managed in 10 starts at Round Rock in 2011 (3.7 walks and 6.8 strikeouts per nine), but where he was torched for a .390 batting average on balls in play there last year en route to a 6.43 ERA, his BABIP is a much more reasonable .276 this year. His past two outings have been strong, as he's allowed just two runs and four hits in 16 innings; he needed just 90 pitches to spin a complete game in his most recent turn on June 21.

Perez drew the attention of scouts thanks to his combination of pure stuff, a delivery that Baseball America called "picture perfect" and the potential for three above-average pitches. But the consistency of his arsenal has been his biggest challenge as he's climbed the minor league ladder. "Perez's performance remains bi-polar, with the stuff and the command rarely clicking at the same time, and the overall feel that generated so much buzz early on in his career now drawing criticism rather than praise," wrote Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks, a prospect expert who pays particular attention to the Rangers' system via his Texas Farm Review side project. Last week, Parks noted that Perez's fastball has fallen from the 92-96 MPH range to a high-80s/low-90s one, and while his changeup remains top notch, his curveball has been junked in favor of a slider. The decline appears to a combination of mechanical and mental factors, hardly uncommon for a 21-year-old, even one with great stuff.

Perez is joining a Texas team that has been decimated by injuries to pitchers. Prior to Lewis going down, starters Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland were already on the disabled list, the former because of elbow inflammation, the latter due to a combination of a stomach virus and shoulder fatigue; neither is expected back before the All-Star break. The Rangers have already gone through their first line of rotation defense; one swingman, Feldman, was tagged for a 6.43 ERA while averaging just 4.4 innings over eight starts, while another, Alexi Ogando, made just one start before limping to the DL due to a groin strain that will keep him out until after the break, too.

Roy Oswalt was strong in his first turn with Texas last Friday, throwing 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball against the Rockies, while callup Justin Grimm, who struck out seven in his June 16 major league debut, was pummeled for eight hits and six runs in one inning and change on Monday. Grimm's brief outing forced lefty reliever Michael Kirkman to toss 82 pitches over five innings, while righty Mark Lowe added three innings himself; neither is available for Tuesday night's game, which was the initial reason Perez was recalled. Now it appears as though he'll stay awhile, with his stint in the bullpen possibly serving as an audition to replace the oft-battered Feldman in the rotation.

The Rangers looked as though they were going to run away with the AL West when they ended April with a 17-6 record and a 6 1/2 game lead on the Angels. They've leveled off since then, going 28-23, but thanks to a recent seven-game winning streak (June 15-22), their lead is back at 4 1/2, and both their 45-29 overall record and +89 run differential remain the league's best. Their current plight serves to remind us that even the best teams need considerable depth to make it through a full season. The Rangers are fortunate their system is strong enough to provide a Perez as a fill-in, as even if he doesn't prove ready in his first exposure to the majors, the experience may help if he's needed again later this season.

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