Brewers Farm Update

The Quiet Ascendance of Jon Perrin

In the fall of 2011, Jon Perrin arrived at Oklahoma State University as a lanky freshman with a mid-80s fastball and so-so command. He walked on to the  Cowboys’ squad that year and made five mediocre appearances, mostly out of the bullpen, resulting in a smoke-and-mirrors ERA of 4.05. But he had his foot in the door, and returned for his sophomore year a little stronger and a little smarter. He started five games that year, with 18 additional appearances from the ‘pen, and struck out 41 batters over 47.3 innings against just 11 walks.

His junior season was a revelation. Perrin, now pumping his fastball over the plate in the low-90s, covered 102 innings with a 2.38 ERA, twirling a pair of complete-game shutouts among his 13 starts. His command came and went to the tune of 2.5 walks per nine, but he did enough that year to catch the eye of the Detroit Tigers, who selected him the 33rd round of the 2014 MLB Draft. For whatever reason, maybe because his performance deserved a higher selection, maybe because he was determined to finish his education, he went back to school in 2015.

Senior year was something of a step back. Perrin started 16 games and covered 84.3 innings, but his walk rate ballooned to 3.31 per nine innings. The flagging command may have resulted in a get-it-over-fastball dependency. Perrin surrendered seven home runs on the year, after allowing only two in his collegiate career to that point. Still, he’d flashed enough potential for his draft stock to improve; the Brewers gobbled him up in the 27th round and quickly sent him to Arizona to begin his professional career.

He made short work of the Arizona League, flummoxing hitters one and a half years his junior over ten dominant innings. Perrin moved up to Appleton and out-pitched his peripherals for the rest of the season, finishing with just shy of 40 innings and walking only four batters.

Year Team IP ERA DRA BB9 K9
2015 AZL Brewers (Rk) 10.0 0.90 3.47 2.7 7.2
2015 Wisconsin (A-) 39.7 4.31 2.44 0.9 7.7

These results were the first indications that Perrin might be more than a run-of-the-mill 27th-rounder. Still, Perrin was far from the first advanced college arm to carve his way through the Midwest League. He was sent back to Appleton to start 2016, and lay waste to the league before a mid-season bump to Brevard County, which, it should be noted, scarcely slowed him down. He earned a bump to Class-AA at season’s end, and could have made a strong candidate for Minor League Pitcher of the Year, were it not for what Brandon Woodruff was up to in Biloxi.

Year Team IP ERA DRA BB9 K9
2016 Wisconsin (A-) 36.0 2.50 1.21 0.3 11.8
2016 Brevard County (A+) 110.7 2.60 2.63 1.5 7.7
2016 Biloxi (AA) 3.3 24.30 4.77 8.1 5.4

2017 held a stiffer test. Perrin’s chief weapon is a fastball that tops out in the low-90s. The pitch has some natural sink, but Perrin relies primarily on deception. Hitters have a tough time reading pitches out of his hand, and he hides the ball well with his 3/4 delivery. Most importantly, he can spot the fastball throughout the strike zone.

He pairs that pitch with a slider that sits in the low to mid-80s and darts into or out of the strike zone for a share of whiffs. His changeup is coming along, too, and dives towards the dirt when he’s got it working. It, too, sits in the low to mid-80s, which renders his secondary offerings vulnerable when they’re not bending the way they should—ideally, one would like to see a little more separation among his velocities.

Perrin spent the entire 2017 season pitching for the Biloxi Shuckers, though he missed a month with a back injury in the middle of the season. AA is the level at which it become easier to distinguish wheat from chaff. The strike zone is a bit tighter, the hitters are a bit smarter, and many a fringe pitcher has seen his ascent to the big leagues slowed by advanced offenses that are better equipped to punish mistakes. But when Perrin took the mound for the Shuckers, he shone; for example, compare his 2.62 DRA to the 2.30 mark posted by the much-hyped Corbin Burnes.

Year Team IP ERA DRA BB9 K9
2017 Biloxi (AA) 105.3 2.91 2.62 1.8 7.8

What’s most remarkable about Perrin’s ascent through the minor leagues is the remarkable consistency he’s shown at each level. If you strip away the small samples immediately before or after a promotion and focus on one level per year—low-A ball in 2015, A+ in 2016, and AA in 2017, his numbers are eerily similar.

Year Team IP ERA DRA BB9 K9
2015 Wisconsin (A-) 39.7 4.31 2.44 0.9 7.7
2016 Brevard County (A+) 110.7 2.60 2.63 1.5 7.7
2017 Biloxi (AA) 105.3 2.91 2.62 1.8 7.8

The fact that Perrin is likely ticketed to Colorado Springs next season could change that piece of symmetry. Then again, Perrin has made a habit of beating expectations. It’s not a stretch to imagine the former 27th-round pick giving Milwaukee useful bullpen innings or spot starts as soon as the end of next year. In fact, it’s a bit of a shame that his development hadn’t started one year sooner. With his 6’5” frame and plausible role as a future innings-eater, he’s exactly the kind of get-the-job-done fifth starter the Brewers could use right now.

Most minor league fans know the story of Perrin’s law school ambitions. He famously told reporters that he’d happily walk away from baseball if he was accepted at Harvard Law, his preferred school. His Twitter bio pegs him as a “future lawyer,” with baseball only mentioned insofar as his role as a “Milwaukee Brewers part time seasonal apprentice.” But Perrin is inching his way closer to big-league ready, and looks more and more like a viable major league arm. I hope he gets that law degree from Harvard. But I’d be glad if he waited a few years before enrolling.

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