The Brewers’ outfield picture for 2023 consists heavily of prospect talent. Garrett Mitchell is the favorite to open the season in center field, Sal Frelick appeared on the cusp of promotion last September after a torrid stretch in Triple-A, and Joey Wiemer could also join the mix at some point.
Frelick and Wiemer are not on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster. Blake Perkins, whom the Brewers signed to a Major League contract in November, is. The additions of Jesse Winker and Brian Anderson make it unlikely that Perkins makes the team out of spring training, but chances are he, not Frelick or Wiemer, will be first to receive a promotion when the Brewers need another outfielder.
Perkins does not possess the prospect pedigree of his peers in the outfield mix. For much of his minor-league career, his bat has been a weakness. FanGraphs recently dinged him with underwhelming hit (40) and power (35) ratings. Despite that, there is a reason why the Brewers signed Perkins to their active roster.
A second-round pick by the Washington Nationals in the 2015 draft, Perkins struggled to progress up the minor league ranks due to inconsistent offensive performance. He was a well-below-average hitter while playing in the low minors, and the Nationals flipped him to the Kansas City Royals at the 2018 trade deadline as part of a package for reliever Kelvin Herrera.
Perkins got off to a better start with his new organization, but his offense crumbled after a promotion to Double-A. After limping to an 81 wRC+ in 2021 with an inflated 28.9% strikeout rate, the Royals did not add Perkins to their 40-man roster. He elected free agency and caught on with the New York Yankees on a minor-league deal for 2022.
While playing for his third organization, Perkins showed signs of growth offensively. After slashing .247/.346/.469 (121 wRC+) at Double-A Somerset, the Yankees promoted him to Triple-A for the first time in his professional career. He sustained a similar level of productivity after the promotion, slashing .244/.384/.419 (117 wRC+) for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders in 114 plate appearances.
More interesting than those surface-level numbers is the transformation Perkins underwent to achieve them. The switch-hitter consistently pulled the ball on the ground for most of his minor-league career. His ground ball rate regularly eclipsed or came close to 50%, and after lowering it to 43.9% in 2019, it climbed to 48% in 2021.
With the Yankees, Perkins transformed from a scrappy ground ball hitter to a fly ball machine. He slashed his ground ball rate to a career-low 33.8%, and his fly ball rate soared from 30.9% to 45.8%. His newfound ability to elevate the ball helped him smack a career-high 15 home runs.
Those numbers do not change randomly. It takes mechanical changes to overhaul one’s batted ball profile as Perkins did.
Below is a look at his swing from his rough 2021 season.
Perkins rests the bat on his shoulder before the pitcher begins his motion. As the pitch comes in, he deploys a toe tap and a subtle leg lift.
In spring training with the Yankees last year, Perkins maintained the same stance but scrapped his toe tap and made his leg lift more pronounced.
The early results were mixed. Through the first 60 games of the season in Double-A, Perkins posted a 100 wRC+ with six home runs and a .398 slugging percentage. He was hitting for more power than he had in any previous season, but that’s not saying much.
It was then that Perkins caught fire. Starting with a multi-homer game on July 14 through the rest of the season, he slashed .268/.397/.553 for a 150 wRC+. He belted nine home runs in 158 plate appearances.
A video of Perkins’ swing from another multi-homer game on Aug. 2 reveals that he adopted a more closed stance by the season’s final months. His back is also straighter, and his shoulders are more relaxed. Perkins isn’t hunched over as he was early in the year. Compared to 2021, he appears to be rotating his hips more quickly and whipping his bat through the zone in a more explosive yet compact fashion.
While tapping into some more power, Perkins continued to demonstrate his signature patience at the plate. Before last season, he posted an impressive 16% walk rate for his minor-league career. That clip decreased to 13.6% in 2022, possibly as a side effect of an increased willingness to swing and do damage, but he still would have placed near the top of the Double-A and Triple-A ranks had he tallied enough plate appearances to qualify at either level.
Despite his adjustments and late-season power surge, Perkins still does not profile as an offensive threat at the big-league level. His power tool remains questionable—Perkins’ reported max exit velocity of 110 mph lags behind prospects like Wiemer (122), Mitchell (119), Frelick (115), and Tyler Black (113)—and there’s a chance he fails to replicate his 2022 breakout.
A more realistic expectation is that Perkins has elevated his offensive game enough to be helpful in an occasional fourth outfielder role. Speed and defense are his best tools, and as a switch-hitter with a fresh set of minor-league options, much of his value derives from the roster flexibility he affords manager Craig Counsell and general manager Matt Arnold. Steamer projects him to hit for an 88 wRC+, a realistic standard for his projected role.
The Brewers may add Frelick or Wiemer to their 40-man roster if Mitchell struggles or they lose an outfielder for an extended stretch, but Perkins will likely be the first choice for short-term help. A contending team needs solid depth pieces to navigate a 162-game regular season, and that’s how Perkins fits on the 2023 Brewers.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.