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Phil Rogers

Is ambidextrous Perez baseball's future?

Twenty-year-old college junior dazzles in Cape Cod League

Is ambidextrous Perez baseball's future?

An almost unbelievable, largely unexpected summer behind him, Ryan Perez couldn't help himself. When the ambidextrous 20-year-old considered his baseball future, and specifically how he might one day fit onto the pitching staff of a Major League team, he was bursting with excitement.

"It's really, sort of, endless possibilities," said Perez, who at the time was driving across the Midwest on his way home from the Cape Cod League. "I have starting experience. I have closing. I can switch [from left-handed to right-handed, or vice versa] during innings. I can start and close my own game. Anything you can think of, I've done it, and I've had success with it. It just depends on what they're looking for."

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Perez, who is about to begin his junior year at tiny Judson University in Chicago's northwest suburbs, turned a last-minute invitation to pitch in the Cape Cod League into a turn as MVP of the All-Star Game. He struck out the side in his one inning of relief. Perez threw left-handed for the first strikeout, right-handed for the second one and then left again for the third.

Imagine that playing out on a big league diamond some time.

Yes, we've heard this before. It's what Yankees Minor Leaguer Pat Venditte has been doing for seven seasons since leaving Creighton University, including a successful stint as a switch pitcher this season in Triple-A.

But Perez really is Venditte 3.0. He not only throws strikes from both sides, but he throws hard.

According to a scout who has watched Perez closely this year, he can reach the low-90s and sometimes touches 94 mph left-handed. And though he is slightly slower from the right, he still gets into the 90s. Perez's right-handed velocity could increase as he gets further removed from the Tommy John surgery he had in high school.

Perez is listed at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds on Judson's roster -- a solid pitcher's build but not exactly the Justin Verlander package. But he's a work in progress, not a finished product.

"Conditioning is the biggest priority I have going right now," Perez said. "Just getting stronger. I want to add some weight, some from 190 to 210 -- that would be fantastic. I'm 90-94 [mph] now, maybe I can throw harder."

While Perez worked out of the bullpen for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in the Cape, he is the No. 1 starter for Judson, an NAIA school with an ambitious baseball program. He threw 111 innings last season, and then another 30 1/3 innings in 15 relief appearances in the top summer league for college players.

Because Perez was coming back from Tommy John surgery, Judson coach Rich Benjamin used him almost exclusively as a left-hander his freshman year. Perez says he was close to pitching only from that side before he got a jump in his velocity as a right-hander at the start of his sophomore season. That allowed him to continue switch pitching, which his father trained him to do from the start of his baseball career.

"Anything I do right-handed, pitching-wise, throwing-wise, I also do left-handed," Perez said. "It's a lot of hard work."

Unlike in the Cape Cod League, Benjamin has rarely used Perez's unusual abilities to gain platoon advantages over opponents. He said he would often have Perez throw the first five innings of a game left-handed and then the last two right-handed, looking to build up the arm that needed surgery.

"He's electric from the left side," Benjamin said. "He's getting better right-handed. And he's one of the smartest, most dedicated kids I've been lucky to coach. He's got a pretty detailed game plan laid out for him from the right side. It gives him a chance to grow."

As Perez said, the possibilities are endless, and especially intriguing to consider deep into a Major League season, when contenders are searching for pitching depth.

Imagine if they had a left-handed starter who could be used a couple times a week as a right-handed reliever. Or a righty starter who could also be a left-handed specialist. Imagine if he starts running out of gas in a start and then just flips his specially designed glove around and finishes up with the other arm.

Yes, it takes a lot of imagination. But we live in an age of possibilities.

For Perez to be taken seriously, he needs an organization to fall in love with him next spring, when he pitches as a junior at Judson. Venditte has never received serious consideration for a Major League promotion, perhaps in large part because he was a 20th-round pick when he was selected at Creighton, three years after the Yankees had selected him in the 45th round.

Because of his showing in the Cape, Perez will be on scouts' radars from the start next spring. Benjamin says many already were following him, with a 76-pitch, seven-inning complete game against the University of St. Francis coming in front of scouts there to see Jacob Butler, the St. Francis ace selected in the 29th round by the Tigers.

Benjamin says one scout told him that Perez could go as high as the second round in the 2015 Draft, assuming he builds off his breakout performance this year. It will depend on the team that selects him to determine if he'll become left-hander with a gimmick or a true two-way pitcher, like Tony Mullane, who won 284 games in the late 19th century.

"I just really want to play," Perez said. "They can use me however it fits the team the best. It depends on if they see me as a left-handed starter or a pitcher who can start and then come back and throw two or three innings a day later. It all depends on what somebody wants me to do. I'm a very flexible pitcher."

After all, life is all about options, isn't it?

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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