Long before the Tigers had drawn attention for their willingness to spend above slot over the past few years, Detroit was best known for president/general manager Dave Dombrowski's affinity for power arms. And with Perry, a junior reliever at the University of Arizona, the Tigers found one of the harder throwers available. He'll have some work to do to round out his repertoire, but with a fastball that consistently tops out at 98 mph and two other pitches, he has a very solid start, even though he's better known for working late in games.
A preseason All-American according to Baseball America, Perry began the college season as the third starter on Arizona's staff and tossed seven scoreless innings as part of a shutout of Notre Dame. After struggling in late March, however, the Wildcats moved him to the bullpen.
It ended up being a blessing for Perry.
"After a few starts, my coach [Andy Lopez] kind of realized that [starting] wasn't working for me too much," Perry said. "He wanted me to work in the bullpen and get my comfort down. I just noticed my tempo was really bad when I was starting, and it caused me to think a lot. Coming out of the 'pen, that's when I realized how bad it was."
The difference was striking. For the season, Perry owns a 6-3 record and 3.07 ERA in 29 appearances. When he pitched out of the bullpen, he posted a 1.74 ERA and .179 opposing batting average, scattering 29 hits over 46 2/3 innings with 12 walks and 44 strikeouts. He retired 16 consecutive batters April 13 against Indiana State after throwing his fastball no slower than 95 mph earlier in the week against San Diego State.
He put on a display for scouts last weekend in an NCAA tournament regional in nearby Ann Arbor, Mich. After allowing a hit to the first batter he faced in the opener against Eastern Michigan, he racked up five consecutive strikeouts. He tossed a scoreless inning against host Michigan the next day, putting up that triple-digit fastball, before retiring one batter against Kentucky to help clinch Arizona's trip to the Super Regionals.
So far as he knew, that was the one recorded time he has hit 100 mph, though there was an unconfirmed report he did it in a regular-season game earlier in the year.
It was a solid comeback to Perry's junior season. After a motorcycle accident cost him a month and a half out of his sophomore year, though, he's already had a bigger comeback.
He was riding a friend's motorcycle on a cul-de-sac, he recalled, when he lost control of the bike on a wheelie. He crashed right into a telephone pole, suffering a fractured lumbar, broken left arm and lacerated liver. Hitting the telephone pole, officers pointed out later, likely saved him from flying onto the highway beyond it.
"The accident definitely helped put everything into perspective for me," Perry said. "It just helped me realize my ability. It just put my focus more on getting where I want to be and less on being the daredevil I was."
Perry was working out with his team Thursday for that tournament this weekend at the University of Miami when he received the news.
"I think you can use him either way. I think he has the delivery and the arm action to start. But it's up to the preference of the organization."
-- Tigers scouting director David Chadd on Ryan Perry
Though last weekend's dominance came in the Tigers' backyard, the club had been tracking him since the Cape Cod League last summer. They saw the stuff, especially the fastball, and were impressed.
"That's when we first identified Ryan as a top right-handed pitcher for us going into this year," Chadd said. "The one constant thing that Ryan brought for us this spring was the power."
It's more than just the fastball that appealed to scouts. Perry also throws a slider that Chadd identified as a power pitch and a changeup with deception for hitters who gear up for the heater.
He comes into pro ball with a solid foundation of three pitches. It's the consistency on the secondary ones that will be a key for him, as his history shows.
"Ryan came to the University of Arizona as a shortstop," Chadd said, "so he has limited innings on his arm. He needs to develop his delivery and some consistency."
Perry sees plenty to learn, but he also calls himself a quick learner.
Tigers' top five selections
|21.||RHP||Ryan Perry||U of Arizona|
|67.||RHP||Cody Satterwhite||U of Mississippi|
|99.||RHP||Scott Green||U of Kentucky|
|133.||RHP||Brett Jacobson||Vanderbilt U|
|163.||C||Alexander Avila||U Alabama Tuscaloosa|
|Complete Tigers Draft results >|
"I'm just learning every time I go out," he said. "Coming in as a shortstop, I threw maybe 20 innings all four years at my high school."
Perry becomes the fifth pitcher taken with the Tigers' top pick in the last six years, and the fourth college arm. Detroit selected high schooler Rick Porcello last summer after taking North Carolina's Andrew Miller in 2006, Old Dominion's Justin Verlander in 2004 and Wake Forest's Kyle Sleeth in 2003.
Unlike those hurlers, Perry has worked primarily as a reliever, raising the question of whether he'll be viewed as a future cog in the rotation or the bullpen. Chadd, for one, thinks he could do either. In that sense, he compared Perry to Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon -- whom Chadd drafted as Boston's scouting director, and whom Perry coincidentally follows -- and Yankees starter turned reliever turned starter Joba Chamberlain.
"I think you can use him either way," Chadd said, "I think he has the delivery and the arm action to start. But it's up to the preference of the organization."
Publicly, at least, that wasn't immediately clear. Detroit's first goal is to get him signed, though that isn't as big of a theme this time around compared to past years. It's feasible that Perry could progress quickly if he's a reliever, a fact that isn't lost on the Tigers, but Chadd said how Perry progresses as a pitcher will determine how quickly he progresses through the system.
Before that happens, Perry has a College World Series in his reach.
"It's nice knowing [the Draft is done]," he said. "I've been so anxious for the last month. So now, my 100 percent concentration is on the College World Series."
The Tigers stuck with the theme of college power arms in the ensuing rounds, taking chances on pitchers whose stuff belied their performance.
University of Mississippi right-hander Cody Satterwhite won 11 games as a freshman and pitched on the U.S. National Team the next summer but struggled this year, yet his power arsenal impressed. Kentucky right-hander Scott Green battled back from Tommy John surgery to begin the season ranked just outside Baseball America's top 20 college prospects yet ended up in the bullpen. Vanderbilt hurler Brett Jacobson has a 6-foot-6 frame and a big curveball, but his fastball command is a concern.
Earlier in the day, the Tigers took part in Major League Baseball's ceremonial Negro Leaguers Draft by honoring former Detroit Stars pitcher Cecil Kaiser.
The First-Year Player Draft resumes on Friday with Round 7 and continues through Round 50.
Here are the rest of the Tigers' selections from the first day:
Round 2: Cody Satterwhite, RHP, University of Mississippi
When Satterwhite is on, his stuff is impressive. He has a mid-90s fastball with good movement to go with a hard slider. His season, however, was a roller-coaster ride to a 3-5 record and a 5.33 ERA in 16 outings, 14 of them starts. Like Perry, Satterwhite could end up starting or relieving. He was a closer for Ole Miss in 2007 before the Rebels moved him back into the rotation this spring. Baseball America ranked him 77th on its list of Top 200 Draft prospects.
Round 3: Scott Green, RHP, University of Kentucky
Green turned down a large bonus as a 15th-round pick of the Red Sox last summer to go back to school, but the college results were mixed following a solid Cape Cod League campaign. A 6-foot-8, 240-pound hurler, he battled inconsistency for much of the season before having better results in UK's bullpen, finishing 6-4 with a 4.76 ERA while striking out 64 batters over 56 2/3 innings. His fastball ranged from the upper 80s early in the season to lower 90s in relief to go with a slider and changeup as secondary pitches. At Cape Cod, his 3-1 record and 1.56 ERA in nine games helped lead his team to the league title. He ranked 118th nationally on Baseball America's Top 200 list.
Round 4: Brett Jacobson, RHP, Vanderbilt University
Like Green, Jacobson's size impresses upon first look, and he has a chance to throw three plus pitches. His struggles have come with throwing strikes, especially the fastball to set up his offspeed and curve. He pitched mostly in relief for the Commodores this spring, going 2-4 with a 5.09 ERA in 20 appearances covering 46 innings. He gave up 48 hits and 20 walks, but struck out 42. He ranked 159th on Baseball America's Top 200 list.
Round 5: Alex Avila, C, University of Alabama
The Tigers' need for catching in their system is no secret, but they missed out on top names in the first round. When they looked for help a few rounds later, they didn't have to search far. Avila is the son of Tigers vice president and assistant GM Al Avila, and he converted to working behind the plate early in his career with the Crimson Tide. He made big contributions to Alabama's fortunes offensively over the past two seasons, batting .343 as a junior this spring with team highs of 17 home runs, 62 RBIs and a .615 slugging percentage. He was a first-team preseason and postseason All-SEC selection.
Round 6: Tyler Stohr, RHP, University of North Florida
Stohr attracted attention in his second season as the closer for the Ospreys by striking out 46 batters over 32 2/3 innings and throwing a fastball that approached the mid-90s. However, he also walked 24 batters in that span. Baseball America ranked him 172nd nationally in a deep crop of Florida talent.