March 25, 2012; Clearwater, FL, USA; A detail of batting practice ball for a spring training game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Baltimore Orioles at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
When a team is drafting in the first couple rounds of the draft, they often look for a few key attributes in any player: high-ceiling, athleticism, throws strikes/makes good contact, high velocity/tons of pop in the bat, maintains consistent arm motion/solid defensively, and sometimes more importantly, sign-ability; meaning, “can we sign this guy, this year or will he play another year in college (or other means)?” However, one aspect of the draft process that I believe to be just as valuable as the other attributes that scouts may overlook, is heart. Heart, in other words, “does this player have what it takes or the ‘drive’ that is necessary to endure many seasons of minor league ball to achieve the ultimate goal of playing in the big leagues?” If you agree with me on this last notion, then look no further, Jose Berrios is your guy. In this video from YouTube that became a hit within the baseball community, Berrios is shown on camera after watching himself be drafted by the Minnesota Twins on June 4th, 2012. With his triumphant hands balled up in fists stretched to the ceiling, welcoming the beginning of a new life for him and his family, Berrios’ emotions soon take over. While being embraced by a loved one and wiping away tears of exuberant joy, the realization of the moment is almost too much for the young man to endure. As a Twins fan, his reaction on draft day makes it feel like he will fit right in with the style of the organization: playing with heart and passion.
It’s that same heart and passion for future successes that started a trading frenzy to obtain young, top-of-the-rotation kind of pitching in Trevor May and Alex Meyer. But before those players were acquired, it was Berrios who was considered to be the other potential top-end pitching prospect in the Twins system – Kyle Gibson being the more known prospect. Despite the new arms in the system competing to be involved in the Twins starting rotation in the upcoming years, Berrios’ stuff combined with his first season success as a professional locked his name into the same conversations with the other, more experienced hurlers now within the system.
In 2012, Berrios proved why the Twins chose to take him as the 32nd overall pick – a pick acquired from the Rockies after Michael Cuddyer signed with them last offseason – in the first round with their supplemental pick. Pitching in 30.2 innings, Berrios carried a minuscule ERA of 1.17 while striking out 49 and walking only 4 hitters. Another eye-popping stat is his insanely low opponent batting average of .140, couple that with an astonishing 14.6 K/9 ratio and Berrios makes the Twins organization as well as the fans jubilant over his swing-and-miss potential. Although the sample size is small, the early success gives promise to the 18-year-old as he embarks on his journey to Minnesota.
Being a swing-and-miss pitcher means a couple of things: good movement on pitches that keep a hitter off balance, and control. Berrios has both of these qualities… for the most part. MLB.com‘s scouting report of Berrios notes what is in the pitcher’s arsenal:
"He’ll throw his fastball now in the 93-96 range, can elevate it when he needs to and can work down in the zone as well, showing good movement when he does. His power breaking ball is a hammer and will be an out pitch as he progresses. While his changeup is behind those two, Berrios has shown a feel for it and it should be a viable third offering for him. He’s aggressive and tends to be around the strike zone."
With his 93-96 mph fastball, some scouts claim to have seen Berrios light up the radar at 98 as well. Despite being able to blow up the gun at such a young age, his reported 6’0″ (some believe he’s shorter) 187 lb. frame leave little room for growth. However, some believe that he still can put on some muscle which will help his velocity stay more consistent as he matures. No, his body isn’t projectable, a la Meyer or Gibson, but what he has to offer now seems to be more than enough to succeed at the highest level once he reaches Minnesota.
June, 29, 2011; Minneapolis, MN, USA; A general view of Target Field before a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
While having an excellent repertoire at such a young age, one knock on Berrios is the command of his out-pitch, the breaking ball. Erratic at times, his hammer secondary pitch can be all over the place. Thankfully, the Twins organization preaches control to their young pitchers and the coaching staff will hopefully be able to correct this as Berrios moves forward in his career.
Projection: I feel that J. O. Berrios, as he is commonly known, has the ability to be a solid no. 2 pitcher in a Major League rotation. He probably will not be an ace, mostly because of his stature which causes his fastball to plane out at times instead of having a nice, downward motion to it. He has the stuff to get the job done, which is evident by his opponent batting average and K/9 ratio. Also, Berrios has older, more seasoned projectable starters ahead of him in the system. Because of this, he will not have the pressure of flying up the ranks to help the now struggling Twins rotation. He has time to grow and come into his own as a starting pitcher, but if he continues to pitch the way he did last season, perhaps we’ll be seeing him sooner than expected. With all of the pitching prospects now ahead of him in the race to Minnesota, I don’t think Berrios will make an appearance until 2016, with some chance for a September call-up in 2015. He is still only 18 and there should not be any rush to get him chucking against big league ball players any time soon. So look for Berrios to crack the rotation in 2016, perhaps even as early as 2015 depending on how he performs the next couple seasons.