Mackey: Twins catch a glimpse of future starting pitching rotation
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Minnesota Twins caught a glimpse of their potential future starting pitching rotation Sunday morning on a chain-link fence side field just up the sidewalk from Hammond Stadium.
The intrasquad game featured Baseball America Top-100 prospect Alex Meyer, hard-throwing offseason acquisition Trevor May, as well as Twins minor league pitcher of the year B.J. Hermsen and others.
May retired all six batters he faced, inducing mostly weak contact. The right-hander has a touch of wild to him, as evidenced when he brushed back right-handed hitter Josmil Pinto with a chest-high fastball, but he followed by delivering a sweeping curveball on his next pitch to induce an awkward-swing groundball to third base.
"I liked May. I thought May threw the (fire) out of the ball," said manager Ron Gardenhire, who stood behind second base during the intrasquad game as an acting umpire. "I thought he was really good. ... His ball just runs. Boom, finishes. That's a nice view back out there. I like it, and that's kind of why I went out there, to see what their ball does from behind."
Meyer used his 6-9 frame as leverage to maintain a steep downhill plane, thus keeping hitters off-balance and making them feel uncomfortable in the box.
"Alex was just misfiring a little bit with his ball," Gardenhire said. "When he hits the zone with it... He also threw a couple of breaking balls that just disappeared. So, stuff-wise it's there. A little inconsistent with the zone and misfiring a little bit."
Another Twins person who has, shall we say, a trained eye, also had complimentary things to say about May and Meyer, both of whom have realistic opportunities to pitch in the big leagues in the very near future -- especially May.
But after May and Meyer exited, this person turned and asked, "Do you want to see someone with a good idea of how to pitch?"
Me, biting my lip to avoid making a joke about a pitching staff that allowed 832 runs last season, said, 'Sure, show me.'
He pointed out to the mound at 18-year-old right-hander J.O. Berrios, who was just finishing his warm-up tosses between innings of a side-field intrasquad game.
Berrios was the Twins' second pick in last year's draft, 32nd overall in the first round. He made quite the splash in his first year of professional ball, striking out 49 while walking only 4 in 30 2/3 innings in the Appalachian and Gulf Coast Leagues.
Berrios wasn't blessed with the same imposing frames as Meyer and May, but he makes up for his limited stature -- 6-0, 190 pounds if you trust the roster -- with a mid-90's fastball and fading off-speed stuff.
"He's quiet... Confident quiet. He knows. He knows he's good. He's in control."
Prior to drafting him, Twins scouting director Deron Johnson saw Berrios mow down 14 strikeouts in a no-hitter against an all-star team in Puerto Rico, Berrios' native land. "We think he's an advanced pitcher for a young high school kid," Johnson said in June. "He can elevate his fastball. The kid really has an idea how to pitch."
Berrios got knocked around a little bit on Sunday -- two unearned runs on three hits and a walk with one strikeout in two innings -- but in his defense, he was facing hitters with major league experience, and at the very least, experience much higher up the minor league ladder.
Among the highlights, Berrios worked his fastball on both corners, mostly between the knees and belt, and he generally missed down in the zone when he was errant. Meyer was a bit erratic too, sometimes unable to find a consistent delivery.
"Alex Meyer and Berrios both have great stuff on the ball," Gardenhire said. "They're a little inconsistent on where the ball's going. Both of them. The same thing. Berrios would get two outs, and he did it twice, get two quick outs and then misfire -- like all of the sudden he's going to overdo it a little bit."
The only reason Berrios is in major league camp is to get him ready to play for Puerto Rico in next week's World Baseball Classic.
"Those are the arms that some people are talking about," said Twins general manager Terry Ryan, who watched May, Meyer and Berrios very closely on Sunday. "May was much more under control, Meyer obviously has the best arm of those three. Berrios is obviously 18 years old, and you expect a little jitter. ...
"We've got to get him ready for the WBC. He wouldn't even be in camp if it wasn't for that. He's 18, and he's certainly a mature kid for 18. He's got stuff, it's just a matter of commanding it."
Berrios will likely pitch in at least one official spring training game before heading off to the WBC, where he will face high-level competition he has never seen before.
"The only downside to me is if he doesn't get used," Ryan said. "That's the only downside. In his situation, the minor leaguers don't even report until about March 6, so whatever he's getting (before then) is gravy. That's the encouraging thing. Even if he doesn't get used in the WBC, this has certainly been official to him."
It's likely Berrios will start the season at Low-A Cedar Rapids in April. He's probably two years away from his big league debut, assuming all goes well.
Meyer will likely start the season at Double-A New Britain. From there, anything can happen.
May could start at Triple-A Rochester and is likely the closest among the three to earning a big league start.