The Minnesota Twins Jose Berrios has long been one of baseball's top pitching prospects. The world got a glimpse of the 22-year old future ace late in April when the Twins called him up to The Show. Unfortunately it didn’t go as planned.
Berrios is no stranger to the spot light. Since being drafted 32nd overall in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft, the 6-foot, 185 pound, Puerto Rican right-hander has been an All Star at every level while earning not one, but two trips to the MLB Futures Game. His four-game MLB debut simply got the best of him.
He has become known for his nasty three-pitch arsenal that he could pound the strike zone with any one of them. He dominated both Double and Triple A, striking out a minor league best 175 batters and walking just 38 over 166.1 innings last season. After three starts in 2016 at Rochester in which he posted a 1.06 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP while striking out 20 and walking eight, Berrios headed to Minnesota.
He was roughed up, but it wasn’t simply that he was hit hard, allowing 20 hits over his four appearances. He uncharacteristically struggled with his command. He was still able to get his stuff by even Major League batters, striking out 20 over 15 innings, but he also walked 12 for a 7.20 walks-per-nine ratio. Berrios knew that in order to get back, he had to find that consistency he had always dominated the strike zone with.
"You have to be more consistent," Berrios said of what he learned in the bigs. "That’s what I’m working on right now. Keep consistent on my pitches. Every start I go out there, I throw strikes, not perfect, but the best I can. That’s what I practice at right now. All three pitches I can throw for a strike in any count, ahead of the count, or behind the count."
Berrios didn’t have much time to really bond with any of his rotation mates while in Minnesota, but he was able to work on his craft.
"I spoke with a couple of guys, but they were veterans and I was younger," Berrios said. "I kept working with my trainer and coaches. We watched video, we saw what I did wrong and we made the adjustments."
Berrios returned to Rochester for a May 21st start and almost immediately looked like himself again. He went on a four-game winning streak in June, including a complete game dandy that he struck out seven and walked none. He has a 2.59 ERA and 1.04 WHIP while striking out 85 over 83.1 innings.
And once again, Berrios was in Charlotte pitching in an All Star Game.
"It’s like a normal game, but there’s a lot of good talent," Berrios said of his one inning performance. "We go out there, do our job and enjoy the game. That’s what I did tonight, I controlled all of my three pitches for strikes."
Berrios came into the game in the fourth inning with the International League trailing 2-1 after Travis Taijeron’s second inning two-run bomb. Kyle Jensen hit a grounder that snuck into centerfield to lead off against Berrios.
"I got two days off that I didn’t throw any balls," Berrios said. "The first guy hit me, and I said that’s ok."
It was indeed ok. He got Taijeron chasing his nasty change up (I believe it was 77 mph) and got the next two batters out rather quickly. His fastball was going in in the mid-90s, consistently hitting 94, landing 11 of his 20 pitches for strikes while showing off his change that seemed to have the bottom just collapse on it.
"I felt great with that tonight," Berrios said of his change. "I threw it for a strike and struck him out. Just throw it. I got really comfortable with that pitch. Tonight the breaking ball was a little hard, because I was too excited, but I feel great. I keep working at it."
The IL would mount a comeback and tie it up in the bottom of the fourth and Durham’s Austin Pruitt would register the win as they took the lead for good in the next inning. It wasn’t Berrios first go round in an All Star Game, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t enjoy it.
"It’s really special for everybody in that room because we got the chance to play together for one game," Berrios said. "When you win, that’s more fun. Everybody in the dugout is very happy right now, enjoying the moment."
It appears the Berrios has his confidence back and that his arsenal may be at the best it has ever been. If he has that consistency down, mixed with the ability to throw three swing-and-miss out pitches, Berrios may get that second chance in Minnesota. This time, he may not come back.