Jose Berrios offers one reason to be optimistic about Twins future
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MINNEAPOLIS - Twins fans in attendance Sunday at Target Field were treated to a glimpse of the future. In an event that could have been a downer for the Twins organization, Alex Meyer, Kennys Vargas and J.O. Berrios did not disappoint.
Given the lengthy injury recovery times of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, the MLB All-Star Futures Game could simply have served as a reminder of who is missing from the Twins farm system picture. Instead, the Twins showed off their impressive minor league depth, on a day when the game's best prospects converged on one field.
Berrios started the game on the hill with a perfect inning, Meyer needed four pitches to get out of the fifth inning, and Vargas played the full game, with a double to show for it.
Berrios, a 20-year-old out of Puerto Rico, was particularly impressive.
Amateur scouting report
Berrios dominated the three hitters he faced with his mid-90s fastball and mixed in a low-80s slider. He pitched a perfect first inning, with one swinging strikeout (on a high fastball) and a fly out and lineout to right field. Nine of his 12 pitches were strikes.
Most of the pitchers in the game are starters in the minor leagues. That's not surprising, since teams like to keep their best pitchers in the starting rotation for as long as they can; the bullpen is often seen as a fallback because there is more value in starting pitchers, who get more outs than relievers. With top-shelf starters in a one-inning role, many of the pitchers appeared to let it fly.
Was Berrios' mid-90s fastball velocity a result of dialing it up for a short stint?
"No, it's normal for me," Berrios said. His fastball is "93-to-97 every day. Top 98."
He said he also throws a changeup and a breaking ball, which is a mix between a slider and a curve ball. His slurve is generally 81-83 mph, he said.
"This year I work better than last year. Eat healthy, rest, I prepare good."
The Twins drafted Berrios in the supplemental round of the 2012 draft (32nd overall). He had been a shortstop as an amateur, he said, but was drafted as a pitcher.
He pitched 14 innings for the Elizabethton Twins and moved on to Rookie League for 16 innings before the year ended. He pitched all of 2013 in the Midwest League (low-A Cedar Rapids) in his first full professional season. He played well as a 19-year-old, making 19 starts and striking out 100 batters in 103 2/3 innings, compared to 40 walks.
He dominated the Florida State League (High-A Fort Myers) this season before recently earning a promotion to Double-A New Britain at the age of 20. Before the promotion, Berrios had a 109:23 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 1.96 ERA in 96 1/3 innings.
"Oh, my goodness. He's going to be a fun one to watch for a long time," Twins pitching prospect Alex Meyer said. "That's a 20-year-old kid who is doing things that I don't think 20-year-olds should be allowed to do. You can't say enough good things about him and how hard he works. It speaks for itself. The year he's having this year, it's really paying off for him. It gives the Twins fans something to really look forward to that's coming here before too long."
He has made just one start in New Britain, in which he lasted 5 innings and gave up 5 runs. He walked 3 batters and struck out 4.
Until Sunday, Meyer hadn't shared a field this season with Berrios, but that hasn't stopped Berrios from making an impression. And it's not hard to envision the two sharing a clubhouse with the Twins in the near future.
Berrios (pronounced Beh-REE-ohs) credited pitching coach Gary Lucas with helping him adapt to being a professional pitcher. Now, he'll work with Rock Cats pitching coach Stu Cliburn.
When will Berrios pitch for the Twins? If it were up to him, it would be as early as this September, even though he won't turn 21 until next May.
"This year, my goal [was to] start in High-A, then go to Double-A and play [well]," Berrios said. "Hopefully now get called up to the Major Leagues in September. I don't know. You never know."
Although it was only one inning, he left an impression on the opposing manager.
"He threw wonderful, too," former Twins manager Tom Kelly said. "My goodness, the ball was sinking. A little breaking ball, he got underneath a couple that just spun, but then he responded. He got his arm back up and threw a couple really good sliders. Excellent, excellent job."
Berrios said some have compared him to Zach Greinke of the L.A. Dodgers, but he prefers to avoid comparisons. If Sunday was a sneak peek at the righty's ability, he offered a glimpse at why some believe he'll be a part of Twins rotation in the future.
"It was a blessing," Berrios said. "Good experience for me, get a chance to play with a lot of good players and in front of the fans it was awesome for me."