On his 22nd birthday, Carlos Perez received the gift of confidence from his employer.
The Braves purchased Perez's contract from Advanced-A Lynchburg on Wednesday, adding the left-hander to the 40-man roster on the final day to add players before next month's Rule 5 Draft.
It wasn't long ago that Perez was among the higher-tiered prospects in the Braves system, sitting just behind the Latin trio of Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino. But as those three have proven, teenage pitching prospects with tons of projection but little experience are extreme risks, and Perez fit the bill.
The long left-hander struggled repeating his long and awkward mechanics and, combined with a below-average changeup, he struggled to get hitters out in the lower levels. Perez recorded a 4.82 ERA with 109 strikeouts and 66 walks in 125 innings for Class A Rome in 2011. It was a trying year with ups and downs, and it would become his last year as a full-time starter in the Braves system.
The Braves moved Perez to the bullpen in 2012, where he worked on the transition in Rookie-league Danville to the tune of a 2.05 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 30.2 innings. He was knocked around in a return trip to Rome in 19 innings that season, and the Braves sent him back to Rome to begin 2013 as a full-time reliever.
It worked like a charm, as Perez recorded a 2.25 ERA with 37 strikeouts and eight walks in 32 innings. For the first time in his career, Perez moved on from Rome and finished the season at Lynchburg, throwing his final 13.2 innings for the Hillcats.
Perez still has a ways to go, and Double-A will be a true test once he reaches it. But he is now armed with a smaller arsenal, working with a two-pitch punch between his low-90s fastball and solid curve. He throws arms and legs at batters with deception and should be a difficult arm to face as a left-handed batter.
The Braves could have given up and moved on from Perez after several years of toiling in the lower levels, but they're rewarding a positive response to his transition with a 40-man spot, keeping him in the team's system and potentially putting him on the fast track to the Atlanta bullpen. If Perez has a good 2014 and finds himself in the upper levels by the end of the season, he could then find himself playing for a relief spot by 2015.
It was just two years ago that a teenager with a developing body and awkward throwing style was struggling to find his place in the South Atlantic League. Now, Perez finds himself on the 40-man roster of the Braves, and we're throwing out possible debut dates. Careers can change quickly in the minors.