As the Astros sought to pare their 40-man roster down last week, we saw the club swing a small deal with the Reds to clear a spot, exchanging longtime farmhand Cionel Perez, a lefthanded pitcher, for low minors catcher Luke Berryhill.
Perez had at times been a top prospect in the Houston organization, peaking in top 100 lists at one point, but was derailed by numerous injuries and wasn’t able to recapture his best stuff. At his best, Perez has shown significant velocity from the left side with as many as three quality offspeed pitches, headlined by his slider. There were questions about his ability to hold up as a starter given his relatively slight build, but most projected him as a dynamic, mult-inning relief weapon.
The Astros waited through multiple injury-mired campaigns hoping that they could salvage what was left on Perez’s deal and eke out some short relief contributions, but even in a 2020 campaign which saw Astros hurlers dropping like flies, he was unable to entrench himself in a big league role, which ultimately rendered him expendable when new acquisitions created a roster crunch.
Perez will head to Cincinnati, which has been collecting high-upside arms on the trade market all offseason, likely at least in part because of the influence of Kyle Boddy in their front office, which will make for an interesting storyline. Driveline training methods popularized by Boddy are best known for helping pitchers discover new velocity and improve the shape on their stuff, but it appears the team is also interested in arms who have been held back by injury, like Perez.
In return, the Astros received catcher Luke Berryhill, a former South Carolina gamecock who was selected in the 13th round of the 2019 draft. A big bodied backstop, Berryhill has a stocky 6’1”, 227 lbs. build that is typical of the catcher position, and has a fairly solid defensive reputation. Most of the value in his profile comes from the ability to hold things down behind the plate, but he does have another tool at his disposal in the form of some significant raw power. What has prevented him from prospect notoriety, however, is his herky-jerky swing, which has significant length and prevents ideal plate coverage.
Overall, Berryhill’s profile is that of an upper-minors or emergency catcher, in a similar vein to ex-Astro Chuckie Robinson, who had a similar reputation for solid defense and some power, but had a swing that was incompatible with hitting for consistent contact in the pro game. There’s likely not a starting role for Berryhill to open the 2020 season, as Low-A and High-A project to be manned by higher rated prospects Nate Perry and Korey Lee, so he’s likely to slide into a backup role early on. It’s possible that the Astros will try to tinker with his swing in an effort to build up his hit tool, but wholesale changes would likely be required.
All in all, this was a low leverage deal which will likely have little effect on the Astros long term trajectory. There’s a chance they could come to regret losing the talented Perez, but their 40-man situation necessitated them giving up a player with some level of big league projection, and the other potential names had greater odds of helping the team in 2021.