Will Jose Berrios ever become the ace the Minnesota Twins imagined?

Starting pitcher Jose Berrios of the Minnesota Twins throws in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Starting pitcher Jose Berrios of the Minnesota Twins throws in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

Jose Berrios has struggled to start 2020 for the Minnesota Twins. Will he be able to rebound and turn into a true ace?

Pitcher Jose Berrios first came up to the majors with the Minnesota Twins in 2016. Since then, he has pitched brilliantly at times, but he has also looked completely lost out on the mound on other occasions. To better understand this paradox, let’s take a closer look at this enigmatic pitcher.

The Twins drafted Berrios in the first round of the 2012 Major League Baseball draft with the 32nd pick. The Twins were tantalized by his 96-mph fastball, his slurve pitch and an effective changeup. He moved steadily up the Twins minor league system, and in his last year split time between AA and AAA, as he led all of minor league baseball in strikeouts with 175.

The scouting report when the Minnesota Twins called him up to the majors was that he had a good but flat fastball with an effective curve ball and changeup, that scouts said should be used more often by the pitcher. His long-term profile was as an MLB No. 2 starter, with the potential to become the ace of the Twins staff. He was considered the 7th best prospect at the start of the 2016 season.

2016 was a rough year for Berrios as he was recalled from AAA Rochester multiple times by Manager Paul Molitor. While having an outstanding season at Rochester, he struggled at the big-league level finishing the year with a 3-7 record and an 8.02 ERA in 14 starts.

Berrios started the 2017 season in Rochester, but after a hot start, he was recalled by the Twins where he flashed some brilliance going 14-8 with a 3.89 ERA in 25 starts and 1 relief appearance. He did however fade down the stretch and in road games where he went 5-7 with a 5.17 ERA.

Berrios was not the Minnesota Twins opening day starter in 2018; that honor went to Jake Odorizzi. However, Jose had an exceptional outing in his first game of the season against the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched a complete game 3-hit shutout with 6 strikeouts in leading the Twins to a 7-0 win. Continuing to pitch well in 1st half of the season going 8-7, Berrios was named to his first MLB All-Star Game where he pitched a scoreless 5th inning earning a hold for the winning AL team.

Jose unfortunately struggled down the stretch going 3-4 with a 4.15 ERA. In addition, he did not fare well again in 2018 in road games going 3-7 with a 4.85 ERA. A pattern was starting to develop.

Jose probably had his most consistent year with the Twins in 2019 under new manager Rocco Baldelli, opening the season with a 2-0 win over the Cleveland Indians where he pitched a shutout while recording 10 strikeouts. He was also named to his second MLB All-Star Game. While reducing the historical statistical disparities between his unbalanced half season splits, he pitched inconsistently in the latter part of 2019 as he dealt with some mechanics issues.

So how has Berrios fared so far this year? In a word, not good. In five starts this year, he is 1-3 with a 5.92 ERA in 24.1 innings. He has also issued 13 walks and has given up 27 hits. His WHIP currently stands at an unmentionable 1.644. The Minnesota Twins have been fortunate that Randy Dobnak, Kenta Maeta, and a few relief pitchers have picked up the slack for him.

He has been wild for sure but are there any underlying reasons as to why Jose has regressed this season. My colleague Billy Porter, commented in a recent article that Berrios is throwing at a higher velocity this year, but it has also contributed to control issues, as exhibited by the number of walks and 3 balls counts that he has racked up this year.

Berrios has also been working on his four-seam fastball, but he seems to lack confidence in it.  It would probably help him to throw his highly effective sinker and his curveball more often because as of a short time ago, hitters were only posting a .125 average when he throws those two pitches.

So what does the future hold for “La Makina” which means “The Machine”, Berrios’ nickname growing up in Puerto Rico. He has a great arm and a fabulous work ethic that should serve him well as he works to improve his pitching results. But he lacks consistency and confidence in some of his pitches and this has prevented him from becoming an elite starter at the major league level.

Will Jose Berrios ever become the ace of the Minnesota Twins? The jury is still out on this question, but we all certainly hope that he does.

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