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TD Top Prospects: #6 Jose Berrios

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We were introduced to Jose Berrios in a video of him celebrating with his friends and family after receiving the exquisite news that he was drafted by a professional baseball team. Arms in a “V”, high-fives, hugs and tears.

For Minnesota Twins fans, the sequel is of him doing the same thing on the field following the last out of a World Series victory. That’s the dream anyway. There remains, of course, a long road from here to there.

Still, Berrios has done much in his burgeoning career to inspire hope that he can be a part of any championship team in the coming years. After the draft, the supplemental first-round pick dominated rookie ball in both the Appalachian and Gulf Coast Leagues in 2012, racking up 49 strikeouts and allowing just four walks in 30.2 innings. Baseball America said he was the team’s sixth-best prospect in a system where new and elite talent was constantly being stocked.

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This past season Berrios, at the ripe age of 19, performed well in the added competition challenge in the Midwest League. Mindful of his development, the Twins pulled back on the reins to insure he remains out of the infirmary like so many of their lauded pitching prospects have gone. And, like most raw prospect talents, he also encountered some resistance as he discovered he could not always throw his speedball by you, make you look like a fool.

Why He Might Struggle

Berrios’ stature -- a generous six-foot-nothing -- may be his biggest perceived weakness. While that would be an inch and change above my current height, by major league pitching standards, that is considered downright diminutive. With a three-quarters delivery, there have been occasions when he has been unable to get the ball down in the zone and when that happens...boom.

According to MinorLeagueCentral.com’s depository of stats, Berrios managed just a 40% ground ball rate - a figure which was toward the bottom of the Midwest League’s leaderboard. As a pitcher progresses in the system that rate typically decreases. It would be nicer to see that number at 50% or higher to go along with his strikeouts but that would take a complete revamping of his repertoire for that to happen. Basically, he is what he is: a strikeout pitcher with fly ball-leaning tendencies.

The strikeouts, however, did not come in as many bunches this past season as they did his first year in the organization. He’s got a lively fastball, a decent curve with a 1-to-7 break and a good changeup with plenty of arm-side run. During his amatuer days, Perfect Game noted that Berrios had flashed a cutter to go along with his other three pitches. His problem, he acknowledged this summer, is that he tries to throw the fastball past everyone rather than mix in the assortment.

Why He Will Succeed

OK, so he won’t win any...umm...height contests but wowzers, that’s an impressive wing span on the young man. What is striking about Berrios is how polished his mechanics are for his age and how well he hides the ball from hitters in his windup. With three above-average pitches, it is easy to see why he can miss bats; just a little tinkering with his pitch deployment strategy could make for a very lethal pitcher.

Beyond that, much has been made of Berrios’ work ethic. Gary Lucas, his pitching coach with Cedar Rapids last year, raved about his advanced make-up for someone as young as he is. He told Twins Daily’s Seth Stohs recently that he places a great deal of emphasis on his training. There is no reason to think that Berrios won’t do everything in his power to take his god-given talent to the next level.

What’s Next?

Berrios is a long way from being in the Twins’ plans anytime in the near future. Realistically he may be suited as a late-innings reliever, someone who doesn’t have to churn through 100 bullets a night and who can stomp their cleats down on hitters’ throats with their best two-pitches. That said, there is no reason to write him off as a potential starter. Some refinement in his approach and filling out as he matures could propel him into a rotation spot. Either way, Berrios has some electric stuff that -- barring catastrophic injuries -- will eventually be on display at the major league level.
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