December 22, 2014
ELGIN, Ill. — Ryan Perez of Judson University is one of the rarest of all pitchers. He is a righthanded and lefthanded pitcher. Even more amazing is that he has topped out at 94 mph as a southpaw and 92 mph as a righthander.
He was highly impressive last summer as he was named MVP of the Cape Cod League All-Star game for Hyannis. In that game, he struck out a batter lefthanded, one righthanded and a third lefthanded in the third inning.
If Perez keeps improving, he may be drafted within the first two rounds of the 2015 Free Agent Draft.
The 6-foot, 188-pounder is a hot commodity with this unique skill set.
How in the world does someone learn to pitch both ways?
“When I was barely able to walk, my dad Juan made me throw lefthanded. But I was naturally a righthander. I was picking up stuff and throwing it at a very young age with both hands. I can’t remember any of that, but that is what I have been told.”
When Perez started playing organized baseball in T-Ball and Little League, he worked on throwing lefthanded to gain more control that way. But he also threw from the right side as well.
“I remember playing first base lefthanded and then sometimes playing third base as a righthander. At an early age, I was pitching against one batter lefthanded and then the next righthanded.”
To gain better command of his pitches, his father worked with him extremely hard when he was 12 to 13 years old.
“I would long toss 50 throws lefthanded and then another 50 throws righthanded. After that, I would throw 150 pitches lefthanded from the mound and then another 150 pitches righthanded from the mound. To develop my eye-hand coordination, my dad also hit a bunch of fly balls to me going left and right. In addition, he would hit me ground balls both ways. And I got stronger and sharper as I did these workouts.”
As Ryan progressed over the years, he was able to refine his mechanics as a pitcher.
From the right side, he throws a 4-seam fastball, changeup, curve and cutter. As a lefthander, he also throws a 4-seam fastball, changeup, curve and cutter.
The only difference between the two deliveries is that he has a higher leg kick with his lefthanded delivery and strides out a bit further. His three quarter arm slot and all other mechanics are essentially the same from the right and left sides.
During the summer prior to his senior year at Westminster Christian High School (Elgin, Ill.) Ryan suffered a serious setback during a pitching outing in Jupiter, Fla. during a showcase event.
“I was throwing with my right arm when I heard a crack as if I was cracking my knuckles. Then I felt the sensation of liquid rushing down my arm, and I was concerned. But I threw another pitch, and I had sharp pain in my right elbow. After another attempt to throw, it was obvious something serious happened and came out of the game. But the next day, I pitched lefthanded but was extremely worried about my right elbow.
“The injury happened on Oct. 28 the day after my birthday. Then a month later on Nov. 27, I had Tommy John surgery on my right elbow.”
It takes a year to rehabilitate such an injury. But a few months later after a brace was taken off his right arm, his surgeon gave him the go ahead to pitch during his senior year lefthanded. He also was allowed to hit lefthanded as well but not from the right side since he is also a switch hitter.
“I was fortunate to play during my senior year of high school. But I was also rehabbing my right arm during this time.”
Tough Freshman Year
When Ryan got to Judson University as a freshman, he pitched from the right and left side during the fall. But he had a scare when a pitch thrown from the right side resulted in popping sound from his elbow.
He quickly arranged for a visit to his surgeon, and tests showed that nothing was wrong with his reconstructed right elbow. But just to be safe, he did not pitch again as a freshman with his right arm and only threw from the left side as the arm was slowly rehabbed again.
He posted a 6-4 record that season as a lefty at Judson with a 4.04 ERA and struck out 79 batters in 64 2/3 innings over 19 appearances.
In the fall of 2013, his right arm was in tip-top shape as he topped out at 92 mph from that side.
His velocity gains at Judson University have been amazing. When he showed up as a freshman, he only weighed 168 pounds and threw 85-88 mph.
But when he added 20 pounds, his velocity jumped to 94 mph from the left side and 92 from the right side. Judson Head Coach Rich Benjamin can’t wait to see the improvement Perez will keep making.
“Ryan really dedicated himself when he was young to being an outstanding pitcher from both sides,” said Benjamin.
“The long hours of work are a reason why few ever attempt to do this. When he put on 20 pounds after he got here as a freshman, his velocity really went up. And I honestly feel he has more in the tank as he adds even more weight to his frame.
“He throws four pitches from either the left or right side, and most of the time he is able to throw three of those pitches for strikes in games. When he puts everything together, he should be given an opportunity at the next level (pro baseball). During the 2014 season, he hit 94 mph twice in games from the left side.”
Benjamin said that he has never coached a pitcher with the skill set Perez has.
“It is extremely rare to even see someone throw from both sides. But when you do, they might be able to throw hard from one side and only 82-83 from the other. Having arm strength from both sides is so rare.”
Benjamin was asked what nuances his pitching charts show of Perez from the left and right side.
“We keep track of all the important pitching stats. Currently he has more command from the left side. He has good command from the right side as well, but he hasn’t developed the pitching rhythm that he will with more repetitions as the season goes. His best days are in front of him. From the right side, he has a plus slider which is just missing down. They are good misses. From both sides, he is able to throw three pitches for strikes in most outings.”
Utilizing Him To Max
Perez’ unique skill set can cause a coaches’ head to spin with how he can be utilized in games.
“As his stamina from the right side grows, we will have the opportunity to get two starts a week from him — one from the right side and another from the left,” said Benjamin.
“But we have to guard against wearing down his body. While one of his arms may be fresh, his body will still experience the rigors of pitching from his previous outing. As long as we give his body enough recovery time, I feel he will be fine. I can envision him throwing 70 pitches from the left side on Tuesday and then throw three innings from the right side on Friday or Saturday.
“We will monitor him to see what the appropriate rest should be for his body and how quickly he recovers.”
Benjamin said there has been a lot of dialogue on how to handle bullpens with Perez.
“That is a major challenge. We have found that giving him equal reps from both sides is the best course of action in bullpens. He needs that consistency so both sides can be at maximum efficiency.”
Benjamin said that when you face a team that has six lefthanded batters in the lineup and three righthanded batters, Perez could throw from the left side to all lefty hitters and switch to the right side against the righthanded batters.
Or he could throw righthanded the first two times through the lineup and then switch to a southpaw the next time through the order. And you could always have him pitch one batter righthanded, the next lefthanded and switch this way through the game.
Defensively, he has a big advantage on bunts down the lines.
“At times when bunts have been hit down the third base line and I am pitching as a lefthander, I drop the glove and throw the ball to first from my right hand on close plays,” said Perez.
“I could do the same with bunts down the first base line on plays to third if I needed to.”
Another Twist In Story
Perez was asked if he has ever experimented with throwing submarine or low sidearm before. And the startling answer is yes.
“I actually have pitched from a low sidearm delivery before and have practiced it with my dad on many occasions to make me more versatile. And I can do it from both sides as well,” said Perez.
“But the coaches at Judson University don’t feel it is in my best interests to throw from this angle at this level. I have four pitches on each side from three quarters, and they want me to refine this to the best I can. With the velocity jump from last year, it seems like a good idea.”
To read more about the amazing ambidextrous pitcher Ryan Perez, purchase the March 24, 2014 edition of Collegiate Baseball by CLICKING HERE.