Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Twins Final Weapon

August comes to a close, the Twins have rebounded from a lackluster middle of the summer, and an AL Wild Card spot is once again in the cards. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton have paced the offense, and Paul Molitor's club is rolling. Heading into September, there's one more weapon the Twins have at their disposal however: La Maquina.

Spanish for "The Machine," La Maquina describes and defines Jose Berrios in a way no other phrase can. The Puerto Rican superstar has put together another amazing season in the Twins farm system, and Terry Ryan is running out of reasons not to deploy him. With Berrios laying waste to opposing hitters, he very well could be the final missing piece to helping the Twins capitalize on their good fortune this season.

A year ago, Berrios blitzed the Twins system. Generally regarded for slow-playing even the best prospects. Berrios pitched at three different levels in 2014. Making 16 starts for Fort Myers, followed by eight for New Britain, and finally a spot start for Triple-A Rochester, it appeared Berrios had arrived. Unfortunately, not everyone saw it that way.

Keith Law had Berrios in the 90's when it came to his top prospect list. The Twins invited him as a non-roster guy to Spring Training, but he was shipped out rather quickly. All of it has fueled Berrios' fire. In 2015, he's done everything possible to substantiate his impressive 2014. With a 3.08 ERA in 15 Double-A starts, he's actually been even better at Triple-A Rochester.

For the Red Wings, Berrios owns a 2.78 ERA across 10 starts and 64.2 innings. He's compiled a career high 155.1 IP and owns a 10.2 K/9 at the highest level of the farm. Since giving up four and five earned runs respectively in his first two Triple-A starts, Berrios has put together a run of 54.0 IP allowing just 38 hits, 12 runs (11 earned), walking nine, striking out 61, all to the tune of a 1.83 ERA. Opposing batters are slashing just .197/.252/.316 off of him, and it all adds up to Berrios being nothing short of dominant.

Since being under the microscope in August, Berrios has taken his game to yet another level. With a September call-up being a possibility, the Twins best pitching prospect has reeled off performances of 12, 10, eight, and nine strikeouts in his last four outings respectively. To put icing on the cake, it was the 12 strikeout, three hit performance on August 26th that general manager Terry Ryan was in the stands for.

Keeping Berrios at the Triple-A level is no doubt the business side of baseball. Not yet on the 40 man roster, the Twins would need to do some finagling to get him up to the big leagues. More than that however, his service time would begin, and Minnesota would lose out on an extra year of team control. Down the line, that no doubt could cost a team generally looking to maximize their spending.

On the flip side, the Twins absolutely had no business being in the spot they currently find themselves in. Beginning to compete a year ahead of schedule, and doing so with top prospects in tow, Molitor's boys have presented an intriguing situation. With a month left of games to go, it's Berrios that undoubtedly could provide the final boost to put the Twins over the top.

If the top prospect ends up being the pitcher the Twins expect him to be, he's going to need to get paid down the line. Minnesota will need to cough up the cash earlier than expected if his promotion happens, but maximizing winning potential when it's there may make sense. A worst case scenario may look like a Berrios promotion only to miss the playoffs, but that experience could prove vital in a more important 2016 season anyways.

How the Twins value future cash flow and contract status will likely be the determining factor, but considering how this club has performed against the odds thus far, Berrios would be a welcomed final piece. Terry Ryan dipped his toes in the water when he traded for Kevin Jepsen and Neal Cotts, but now it's time to dive in. Unleash La Maquina.

More: From Puerto Rico To The Pros: The Jose Berrios Story

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