Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Jose Berrios Is Breaking The System

Twins pitcher Jose Berrios and Tony Oliva talk during the Minnesota Twins spring training at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)
Heading into the 2014 season, Jose Berrios was a 2012 supplemental pick of the Twins out of Puerto Rico. While he remains categorized by that statement today, the ceiling and projectability of the young pitcher has all but changed. Entering the 2015 season, Berrios has already proven that projections are made to be broken, and he's taking the Twins system down with him as well.

By comparative standards, the Minnesota Twins have become synonymous with slow playing even their top prospects. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are both knocking on the big league door, although the club doesn't seem ready to let them in just yet. Each of them has progressed through the ladders of the organization, and they have contributed across all levels. Berrios however, has a leg up on both top prospects accomplishing a feat even Joe Mauer before him was unable to do.

Pitching across three different levels of the minor league system in 2014, Berrios has absolutely exploded onto the scene. Starting in Single-A Fort Myers, and ending his season with an outing at Triple-A Rochester, Berrios single-handedly destroyed the slow progression young prospects are normally mapped into by the Twins. On top of his impressive acceleration, Berrios accomplished the feat at an extremely high level, pitching to the tune of a 2.77 ERA across 25 starts.

All offseason, Berrios cataloged his workouts, coined a new slogan, and generally reminded Twins fans and the front office alike that he had even bigger goals for the upcoming year. After pitching at Target Field in the 2014 All Star Futures game, and compiling an impressive set of statistics a year ago, Berrios wanted to turn his non-roster Spring Training invite into a role in the major league starting rotation. Lofty as it is, faulting him for believing it to be a possibility would seem shortsighted in the highest regard.

Rated amongst the top 50 prospects in baseball for 2015 by most publications (we won't hold it against you ESPN and Keith Law), Berrios has gone from a rather unknown outside of the Twins organization, to a top-notch prospect. While Law isn't sold on his starting prospectus yet, and FanGraphs ZiPS Projections sees him as somewhat of a flame-out, Berrios has pushed on. and Baseball America both view Berrios as a top third prospect heading into 2015, but even that doesn't need to motivate the young hurler. At the end of the day, Berrios continues to battle against himself, and he keeps on winning.

Minnesota Twins pitcher Jose Berrios (@TwinsPics)
Thus far Berrios has stepped on the mound twice down in Fort Myers. His first outing came in an exhibition against the University of Minnesota. His two innings were highlighted by four strikeouts, and he left the game without allowing an earned run and giving up just one hit. In his first test against major league hitters, Berrios made quick work of the Baltimore Orioles. A three inning relief outing again featured two strikeouts while allowing just three hits and an unearned run. In the limited exposure thus far, the return has been more of what the Twins have come to expect out of Berrios.

Making the starting rotation when the team travels north may be somewhat of an uphill battle. With Alex Meyer, Tommy Milone, Mike Pelfrey, and Trevor May all competing for one spot, the deck is stacked against Berrios. Despite an Opening Day exclusion, projections that a September call up appears destined may also be off. As we witnessed just a year ago, Berrios likes to make quick work of the competition, and even the Twins don't appear to be able to hold him back.

Expect the groundwork to continue to be laid in Fort Myers this spring, and when the team breaks camp, make sure all bets are off. Jose Berrios is clearly in command of his own destiny, and if it's any bit as accurate as his fastball, we should all be on the lookout.

Minnesota takes on the Tampa Bay Rays today at 12:05 CT and will look to avenge a loss to them last week.