Last year, Joey Perretta wrapped up his first season of professional baseball in the Pecos League as a member of the Raton Osos. This year he heads to the East Coast Baseball League (ECBL) to pitch for the Road City Explorers — the ECBL’s travel team.
Despite the less than ideal conditions of the Pecos League, the 22-year-old right-handed pitcher was able to find some positive aspects to his 2014 campaign. So much so that he will be playing a second year of professional baseball.
“Playing 70 games in 72 days is such a physically and mentally exhausting task,” Perretta said. “It taught me that I have to bring the same intensity and focus to the mound whether it is Game One or Game 70 of the season.”
That intensity guided him to a 1-4 record while posting a 4.91 ERA in 26 appearances (one start). He also struck out 26 batters while surrendering nine walks in 33 innings pitched in his rookie season. Although his statistics may not be all that impressive, he enjoyed his time in the Pecos League as a rookie.
The Pecos League is viewed as the bottom of the totem pole among independent baseball leagues. Players make about $50 a week and teams draw less than 200 fans per game. In addition, the league’s condensed regular season schedule can be extremely grueling for the players as they play 70 games in a 72-day span. However, the Pecos League’s compressed schedule is something Perretta is thankful for.
“My first year playing pro ball in the Pecos League was an unbelievable experience,” he said. “I really did not know what to expect going into it because I had no experience with pro ball and was just fresh out of college. My season went way better than I would have ever expected for being a rookie in the league.”
He found his role in the Osos bullpen and strung together a few good outings through the first few months of the season. He was surrounded by a great group of teammates that helped him along the way. Perretta was willing to learn from his more experienced teammates.
Osos starting catcher Evan Richard was the one teammate Perretta felt helped him the most. The 2014 season was Richard’s second year in pro baseball after going undrafted out of Prarie View A&M (TX).
Right away, it seemed like Richard and Perretta had a good connection as batterymates.
“He always made sure to tell me to trust his pitch calling,” Perretta said. “I know that’s why I had such a good season. He taught me to always be confident on the mound and trust my stuff.”
Osos manager Ray Hancock also had praise for Richard.
“Evan Richard was a team player and a leader,” said Hancock, “being the starting catcher and having all the weight of the world on his shoulders. He’s an excellent example of a true team player and as with all of my catchers they are the quarterback of my team. My pitchers from the get go are told the catcher is the leader and if they have some kind of a problem with that they need to talk to me. Evan was able to control the pitchers and keep confidence in themselves. I have nothing but praise for Evan.”
Both Perretta and Richard were named to the 2014 Northern Division All-Star Team. They were the only two members of the Osos to be selected for the 2014 Pecos League All-Star Game.
Perretta attended Stow-Munroe Falls High School from 2006-2010. He played on the school’s junior varsity baseball team during his freshman and sophomore years and enjoyed success while playing in the infield and pitching on the mound. In his junior year, he was the starting second baseman for the school’s varsity baseball team and also pitched out of the bullpen. He had a very good year and Stow-Munroe Falls finished with a winning record. They advanced to the playoffs only to get eliminated in the first round. Perretta’s senior year is where things took an unexpected turn. He signed a letter of intent to continue his baseball career at Tiffin University in January of 2010, but a few weeks later his high school coach informed him that he had been cut from the varsity team.
“(It) was a complete shock to me,” Perretta said, “and it was all over politics and outside reasons that had nothing to do with me. So my senior year was rough, but it wasn’t as bad because I knew I would be playing college ball at Tiffin, which kind of eased the blow of losing my final year of high school ball.”
“There were a couple of outside reasons for why I got cut my senior year,” said Perretta. “It was a couple of different things that happened around the same time so it was just really bad timing.”
He missed a day of school before the teams were posted, and also missed a test and did not get a chance to turn in some assignments which were due. Because of this his grades dropped, but they would’ve been brought right back up once he turned in the missing work.
When his coach saw his grades drop he began to get the impression that Perretta would be a liability to the team. The drop in his grades was a result of an absence. Politics played a huge role at Stow-Munroe Falls High School when it came to sports, and that contributed to Perretta getting cut.
“It’s such a shame because a lot of good athletes at my school did not get the opportunity because coaches would favor players because the coach knew his parents or was a family friend. I was one of the guys who got the opportunity taken away from me because of these political reasons. Looking back at it now though, I am glad that this happened because it is an endless supply of motivation for me to keep succeeding in baseball.”
After graduating from high school, Perretta attended Tiffin University in the fall of 2010. He didn’t receive much playing time in his first two years at Tiffin because of a nagging arm issue during his freshman year, and the team’s bullpen was filled with more seasoned collegiate arms and upperclassmen during his sophomore year. He made just two relief appearances in his sophomore season and allowed one run in 2 1/3 innings of work out of the bullpen. He also struck out three batters that year. He saw more playing time in his junior and senior years.
In Perretta’s junior year, Joe Wilkins took over the program as Tiffin’s head coach. He was the first guy to give Perretta a legitimate shot to prove himself on the mound.
“It was nice to have a coach who had your back and would give you a chance to prove your worth,” Perretta said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without his help and his confidence in me.”
Perretta worked his way into the team’s starting rotation in his junior year, making 10 appearances (six starts) and going 2-5 with a 5.25 ERA in 36 innings pitched. He also struck out 13 batters and surrendered 10 walks that year.
Coach Jim Richardson was his pitching coach during his senior year at Tiffin. Right off the bat he noticed a few things with Perretta’s mechanics that needed to be adjusted. When Coach Richardson saw him throw for the first time he noticed that during his delivery, his arm action was too long and it was causing his arm to drag. Richardson decided to help Perretta shorten up his arm action which allowed for his legs and delivery to have better timing. It also helped prevent his arm from dragging. These new mechanics were extremely frustrating for Perretta to adjust to at first, but once he felt comfortable with them it got easier and he gained some confidence. The change paid off as he saw his velocity increase and his breaking pitches become much sharper than they ever were. As tough as the adjustment was, Perretta is grateful that he persevered.
“Everything (Coach Richardson) did was to benefit not only me but the other pitchers on the staff,” he said. “He worked endless hours with videos and practice times to help us get better. In just the one year with Coach Richardson, he completely transformed me into a better pitcher. I can’t thank (him and Coach Wilkins) enough.”
Perretta posted a 3.90 ERA in 11 appearances (six starts) during his senior year. He also struck out 19 batters and surrendered 11 walks en route to a 2-4 record.
“It was nice to see a lot more playing time and rack up some quality innings on the mound. My four years at Tiffin was an amazing experience, and I was so fortunate to have such a good coaching staff who made me into the player I am today. I wouldn’t be where I am today in my pro career without them.”
Perretta carried the lessons he learned from Coach Wilkins and Coach Richardson into his rookie season with the Osos.
Although the Pecos League is comprised of a lot of players fresh out of college, there are also players with a few years of professional baseball experience under their belt. Perretta quickly learned he had to adjust to facing more advanced hitters.
“The big difference I noticed,” Perretta explained, “was that any mistake made or a pitch that I didn’t locate got hit. In college, you could make mistakes on the mound and get away with it. The guys in the Pecos League would hit these mistakes so I learned quick that I had to locate all of my pitches and be able to throw any pitch in any count with confidence.”
Osos manager Ray Hancock feels Perretta made the transition from college to the Pecos League fairly well.
“He showed excellent mechanics from the get go,” Hancock said. “He just had to build a little bit more confidence midway through the season. His confidence level was very high and I think he will do very well at the next level. He just needs to stay focused.”
Hancock also felt Perretta’s eagerness to learn from the more experienced players on the team served him well.
“It’s important for players to become a family,” he said. “Joey was a player who became part of the family very quickly so other players would gravitate to him and other guys like him just because they were willing to learn and show an eagerness to be part of a team.”
Perretta is thankful for the great teammates he had in his rookie season. He always made sure to take in any information or advice they had to offer.
“I was with a great group of guys on the Osos and learned a lot from them. Being a first-year guy, I would always try to learn from the guys who had more experience and knew the ropes of independent pro ball.”
“I also learned a lot from the guys who were also in the bullpen with the Osos,” Perretta continued. “Most of them were in their second year in the league and they took me under their wing since I was just a rookie. It was nice to have guys to go to if I had any questions and they helped me so much throughout the season.”
“Being in the Pecos League and a member of the Raton Osos has allowed me to improve and grow tremendously as a player. I feel like I am more of a complete pitcher not only physically but also mentally.”
He finished his rookie season with a 1-4 record while posting a 4.91 ERA in 26 appearances (one start). He also struck out 26 batters while surrendering nine walks in 33 innings pitched. Given the fact the Pecos League is a hitter-friendly circuit, Perretta is satisfied with his statistical showing.
“I would say I am a ‘stats guy’ only for the reason that stats help you move up the ranks in independent ball,” Perretta said. “I try not to be always worried about stats, but it’s hard when that’s what other coaches and scouts primarily look at. That’s the one thing that many people don’t know or understand about the Pecos League is that stats don’t tell the whole story or are very skewed. With the high elevation and tiny ballparks, the hitters stats are usually very high because the ball flies out of the park. I think I finished the season with an ERA of 4.90, which could be better, but in the Pecos League that is a pretty good ERA when you factor in everything. I was very pleased with how my rookie season played out. I made the All-star team as a rookie and definitely grew as a pitcher at the pro level. I now know what it takes to excel at this level and the work that needs to go in to keep competing against other pros.”
Perretta has set some hefty goals for this upcoming season, and he has been working hard this off-season to put himself in the best possible position to reach them.
“I’m on a throwing and lifting program for the upcoming season,” Perretta said. “I want to make sure I give myself the best chance at succeeding throughout the entire season. These lifting and throwing programs will, hopefully, allow me to do that for the 2015 season.”
His main goal is to get signed by an affiliated ball club.
“I know it will be a difficult goal to reach, but I know it just takes one person to like your skills and give you a shot. If the affiliated route doesn’t pan out I hope to keep moving up the ranks in independent ball.”
Anton Joe is an Independent League Baseball Writer for Baseball Essential. You can follow him on Twitter @AntonJoe_BBE.