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Article: J.O. Berrios Continues The Climb

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From MinnCentric



The New Top Twins Pitching Prospect?

Alex Meyer, who entered this season as the bona fide top pitching prospect in the Minnesota Twins organization, saw his season come to an ominous end over the weekend, when he was removed in the second inning of his final start for the Rochester Red Wings due to shoulder stiffness.

The move was deemed "precautionary" but it is unsettling nonetheless, considering that the hard-throwing right-hander missed about a third of the 2013 season because of shoulder problems.

Now, Meyer's designation as the team's best pitching prospect has grown tenuous, not just because of his own question marks but because another young hurler in the organization has risen rapidly, overcoming the odds to emerge as one of the most exciting and unusual arms in the minor leagues.

J.O. Berrios won't be taking his first legal drink until next May, but his spectacular 2014 season certainly deserves a toast.
Image courtesy of Jerry Lai, USA Today Sports
Berrios gained some immediate fanfare when the touching video of his tear-filled celebration went viral after he was selected by the Twins with the 32nd overall pick in 2012. That fanfare grew with a dominant debut between two levels of rookie ball, where the teenager posted a 1.17 ERA and ridiculous 49-to-4 K/BB ratio over 30 innings.

The enthusiasm surrounding Berrios died down a bit last year in his first exposure to full-season baseball at Cedar Rapids. His 3.99 ERA and 1.40 WHIP were not terrible by any means, especially considering his age, but he certainly looked more human.

Then came this 2014 season. Berrios moved up a level to open in High-A, and he was simply lights-out with the Ft. Myers Miracle. In 16 starts, he went 9-3 with a 1.96 ERA and 109-to-23 K/BB ratio. After watching him rattle off 10 straight quality starts with 82 strikeouts in 66 innings from May 13 through July 4, the Twins -- who have typically fallen on the conservative side when it comes to promoting pitchers -- really had little choice but to bump him up to Double-A.

Berrios, who had turned 20 just a couple weeks before his promotion, became the youngest pitcher to throw in the Eastern League, where the average batter is 24.7 years old. Despite his drastic disadvantage in age and experience, the righty continued to hold his own for New Britain, putting up a 3.54 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over eight starts.

His showing impressed the organization enough that when Class-AAA Rochester -- locked in a tight pennant race and facing a must-win situation on Sunday -- desperately needed a starter to get them a victory, it was Berrios that they looked to. At age 20, the kid was starting in a high-stakes Triple-A contest.

Berrios didn't fare well in the outing, coughing up six runs in three innings, but that's not particularly surprising nor worrisome. Simply putting himself in position to start that game was an incredible feat that frankly ought to be generating a lot more buzz than I've seen.

What I find especially encouraging about Berrios is that an aspect of his game most experts expected to be a weakness has thus far proven to be perhaps his greatest strength. As a relatively short (6'0") specimen who lacks ground ball tendencies, prospect analysts suggested that he was likely to start giving up home runs in bunches once he began facing advanced hitters.

On the contrary, however, Berrios has shown an astonishing ability to keep the ball in the yard. Last year at Cedar Rapids he allowed only six home runs in 19 starts. This year, he yielded the same number in 25 starts. Somehow his ability to limit the long ball has only improved as he has climbed the ladder; in eight starts (40 innings) in Double-A, Berrios was taken deep only twice, by experienced hitters who were more than four years older than him on average. And despite a rough go in his lone Triple-A outing, he didn't give up a bomb.

While the young Berrios was rising meteorically this summer, Meyer was working through a season that was encouraging in many ways but not as overwhelmingly successful. Although he led the International League in strikeout rate, whiffing 27 percent of opposing batters, he also posted the worst walk rate of his career and never showed the ability to pitch deep into games over a prolonged period. He completed six innings only once in his final seven starts. That's not exactly ideal for a 24-year-old in Triple-A.

Meyer still has the best stuff of any pitcher in the system, by most accounts, and probably maintains the highest upside. But Berrios has moved past the point of being that young, undersized kid tearing up the low levels of the minors. What he did this season -- rising through three levels at the age of 20 -- is nothing short of amazing.

Suddenly, unlikely as it may be, he's in a position where he could conceivably debut in the majors next year at age 21. For the record, only Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano have pitched for the Twins at such a young age in the past 20 years.

What do you think? Has Berrios surpassed Meyer as the team's top pitching prospect?

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57 Comments

If Berrios has a strong Spring Training, I would not be surprised to see him to north with the Twins.However, I do think they will closely watch his pitch count, even in the majors.He is young enough to still have some growing to do.:)

Interesting article, Nick.  Do you see Berrios as a potential ace?

I get a little depressed about Meyer when reading this. That is not the intent, I know, but it is alarming.

 

Berrios falls right into the Gibson-2013 and Meyer-2014 trap here in 2015. Innings limit but most (or all) in the minors.

Given injuries, I think teams need to move pitchers faster through their systems to get value when they can. Berrios is a perfect example of that. It's 2016 for him.

 

    • jokin likes this
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Djberger168
Sep 03 2014 12:37 AM
I've super high on Berrios. What he lacks (compared to Meyer) in height and velocity I think he makes up for it other ways. He could stand to a just a touch more bulk and of course some seasoning, but I think he's a viable candidate somewhere in the 2015 campaign.

Somewhat unrelated, would Meyer benefit from a relief role? I'm not at all giving up on him as a starter, just curious what you all think.
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diehardtwinsfan
Sep 03 2014 05:38 AM
Not quite sure if he's ahead of Meyer yet, but he's closed the gap. I don't see him heading north with the Twins next year though.
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beyondclarity
Sep 03 2014 07:12 AM

Given injuries, I think teams need to move pitchers faster through their systems to get value when they can. Berrios is a perfect example of that. It's 2016 for him.

 

Shane - I couldn't agree more here.  Instead of babying them along and wasting so many innings in the minors, I'd much rather see that wear and tear occur for the big club.  Within reason of course...

    • Kwak likes this
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mike wants wins
Sep 03 2014 07:47 AM

Other teams have figured out the idea........get your pitchers up earlier, before they get hurt.

 

I also found the article depressing about Meyer. I have no idea if Berrios can be great or not, but if we now think Meyer can't, well, that's depressing. So far, the Span and Revere trades have produced negative WAR for the Twins......just great.

    • jokin likes this

By midseason, Berrios was the top pitching prospect in the organization, in my opinion. 

 

I don't think Meyer is a lesser prospect, though that could be argued too. I think this is more about Berrios emerging.

 

That said, I have talked to a person or two who think that Meyer may be best out of the bullpen... of course, he can be dominant out of the bullpen, but the Twins will want him to start, for sure.

 

In a quick Top 6 I posted on Twitter last night, my current rankings would be: Buxton, Sano, Berrios, Stewart, Gordon, Meyer...

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mike wants wins
Sep 03 2014 07:58 AM

Meyer and May to the bullpen? Ugh......and people wonder why some of us want the Twins to pay for elite players, rather than try to develop them.

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Hosken Bombo Disco
Sep 03 2014 08:17 AM



Given injuries, I think teams need to move pitchers faster through their systems to get value when they can. Berrios is a perfect example of that. It's 2016 for him.

 
Shane - I couldn't agree more here.  Instead of babying them along and wasting so many innings in the minors, I'd much rather see that wear and tear occur for the big club.  Within reason of course...
I agree. Develop guys quicker while they're young and fresh. Seems like many teams are doing that. Even with his shoulder, Meyer probably would have been in the big leagues by now, if he was still in the Washington organization. Barring serious injury, no reason Berrios shouldn't be in the big leagues by age 22.
    • jokin likes this

Meyer and May to the bullpen? Ugh......and people wonder why some of us want the Twins to pay for elite players, rather than try to develop them.

Mike, you're jumping the gun.  Neither May or Meyer have been moved to the pen and the team hasn't made any plans to do so.  May will get every shot to be a valid starter - just like Perkins.  If it fails, he can move to the pen and (probably) be an asset - just like Perkins.  He's still very young and his four starts have come against four playoff teams.  

 

Meyer could end up in the pen due to control or injury but again the Twins haven't moved him in that direction.

 

Lastly, their aren't really "elite" players in FA to buy.  I will agree with you that the Twins should be more aggressive in the Cuban and Japanese markets.  

    • Dantes929 and Sweetwater like this

As to Berrios, I'm not sure I'd rank him ahead of Meyer or Stewart, even with his great year.  I think those two still have him beat on upside and, in Meyer's case, he'll still probably beat Berrios to the majors.  

I think we are a little too worried about Meyer.  He threw 130 innings after throwing about 100 last year (including the AFL).  I think, so long as this shoulder thing isn't more serious which we don't know but early indications are that it's ok, he'll be fine.  The big thing for him was to get through the season and for the most part he did.  He's got elite stuff but occasionally will get wild.  He's a big dude, it'll happen.

    • jokin and Hosken Bombo Disco like this

I agree. Develop guys quicker while they're young and fresh. Seems like many teams are doing that. Even with his shoulder, Meyer probably would have been in the big leagues by now, if he was still in the Washington organization. Barring serious injury, no reason Berrios shouldn't be in the big leagues by age 22.

 

I don't think there's any doubt that Meyer would have been up, probably in 2013,  everyone knows about Strasburg at age 20 and Zimmerman at age 23 getting the early call up that phenoms deserve, but consider these lesser talents than Meyer, who were already starting games for the Nats over the last seven years:

 

Shairon Martis 21

Detwiler 21

Lannan 22

Peacock 23

Balester 23

Atilano 24 

Jordan 24

 

and last but not least, our very own

 

Tommy Milone 24

 

That's a total of 10 Starting Pitchers called up by the Nats in the last 7 years, and before Meyer's current age.  And I'm sure there are many more call-ups of younger Relief Pitchers, as well.

Meyer did miss two months last year with a shoulder injury.  I don't think any team would have brought him up in that circumstance.

 

This year it's a more open question but I think the Twins wanted to see him healthy and not worry about getting ML hitters out.  

As to Berrios, I'm not sure I'd rank him ahead of Meyer or Stewart, even with his great year.  I think those two still have him beat on upside and, in Meyer's case, he'll still probably beat Berrios to the majors.  

I think we are a little too worried about Meyer.  He threw 130 innings after throwing about 100 last year (including the AFL).  I think, so long as this shoulder thing isn't more serious which we don't know but early indications are that it's ok, he'll be fine.  The big thing for him was to get through the season and for the most part he did.  He's got elite stuff but occasionally will get wild.  He's a big dude, it'll happen.

 

This is a much more apt description than hitting the panic button about his inability to go deep into games.  The Twins themselves admitted that all along, Meyer was on a preventive-health maintenance plan this season, the only goal of which was to get him through a season of scheduled innings without a shutdown.  It takes years for the super-tall guys to refine and harness their deliveries, and as we've seen, he occasionally goes completely off the reservation with his control. Plus, he spent the year learning a new 3rd pitch.  

    • WLFINN likes this

Meyer did miss two months last year with a shoulder injury.  I don't think any team would have brought him up in that circumstance.

 

This year it's a more open question but I think the Twins wanted to see him healthy and not worry about getting ML hitters out.  

 

No doubt that was the Twins' plan, but after his performance in ST, and the evidence of early promotions as listed above, it's very debatable if that would have been the Nats' plan.

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mike wants wins
Sep 03 2014 09:14 AM

I am not saying it will happen, I was trying to say that if it did happen, that would be depressing, and an indictment either on the scouts, the minor league coaches, or both.

I get a little depressed about Meyer when reading this. That is not the intent, I know, but it is alarming.

 

Berrios falls right into the Gibson-2013 and Meyer-2014 trap here in 2015. Innings limit but most (or all) in the minors.

Given injuries, I think teams need to move pitchers faster through their systems to get value when they can. Berrios is a perfect example of that. It's 2016 for him.

 

 

Berrios isn't in the same trap as Gibson or Meyer.Both were recovering from injuries those years.Berrios will be held back next year because he is 20 yrs old. 

 

I find it interesting that there seems to be a jump to conclusions that it is good to rush young pitchers to the majors and pitching 180+ innings/season.There have been a ridiculous number of TJ injuries but it's possible that pushing young pitchers too fast has been a contributor.

Berrios is much more Yordano Ventura (with less of a FB, better control and command) than he is a potential top workhorse to me, so I wouldn't put him in front of Meyer or Stewart yet, but he's also pretty much neck-to-neck with them at the finish which is much closer than I had him at the start of the year.

 

Buxton, Sano, Stewart, Meyer, Berrios, Gordon, Thorpe, Polanco, Burdi, Rosario would be my Top 10 right now I think.

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Hosken Bombo Disco
Sep 03 2014 09:31 AM

Meyer did miss two months last year with a shoulder injury.  I don't think any team would have brought him up in that circumstance.
 
This year it's a more open question but I think the Twins wanted to see him healthy and not worry about getting ML hitters out.

True. And intuitively I prefer the Twins more cautious approach to the National's approach, but look at the results they are getting compared to the Twins.

Washington seems to not have much concern about a pitcher undergoing TJ surgery but shoulder might be a different concern in their system. Don't know.

Hypothetically, also, if a guy like Trevor May had been in the Washington system, I think he would have gotten a look before now and doubt very much his ERA after four starts would be above 10.00. So I feel there's something more than injury rehab the Twins need to be concerned about.
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diehardtwinsfan
Sep 03 2014 09:43 AM
Using age as a reason to promote is not a good idea in my opinion.

For one, it ignores the reality that Meyer was hurt for a good chunk of last season, and from what I understand, has also had other injury issues in his career.

Second, it completely sets aside the concept of readiness. I get that very few people are truly ready in that the can come in and contribute, but if there's still quite a bit of learning that can be done in the minors, I'd think it's in the player and the team's best interest to allow that learning to be done in lower leverage/development type situations. I unerstand that he can be flat out dominant at times. We also saw this year that he's got some serious control issues that plague him at times. He didn't improve on that this season as he stepped up, and I fail to see how a promotion will somehow cure that and not exacerbate an already concerning issue.

Third, in this case, it ignores very real workload situations. Berrios successfully pitched 100 innings last year and 140 this year (not counting winter/fall ball, as I don't know what those totals were). Meyer has pitched less. He's an older prospect but is on roughly the same workload restrictions as Berrios, with next year looking at approximately 160-180 innings (assuming of course his inability to get loose isn't something bigger).

That sais, I still see Meyer as the better prospect, though not my much as that gap has closed. JO has done nothing but prove doubters wrong at every step, and I'm hoping that trend continues into 2015. If it does, he may find himself in Minnesota by the summer.
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DAM DC Twins Fans
Sep 03 2014 09:48 AM
No doubt Berrios had a great 2014 season and moved up the prospect list. He is 20 years old--no need to rush him. Start him in Rochester in 2015 and keep him there until the AS Break. He will hit the inevitable bump in the road sooner or later--if he doesn't in the first half of 2015, then maybe bring him up or let him refine his craft in AAA. He will turn 22 in 2016--he can come up then.

Using age as a reason to promote is not a good idea in my opinion.
 

 

Well, it's certainly an idea that has worked well for Washington. (#1 in team SP as rated by fWAR).

 

And yeah, I know their signing of Fister helps that number, but they've had an SP ERA every season in the low to mid 3s for the last half decade- largely made up of guys called up between 20 and 24, even with added FAs that hasn't worked out as well as Fister has.  And Miami has one of the most promising and very young staffs in all of baseball.  Something is wrong with the Twins drafting philosophy and/or developmental program, if all we have to show for budding young (24 and under) starting hurlers in the same time frame as Washington is the likes of Nick Blackburn and Anthony Swarzak.

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ashburyjohn
Sep 03 2014 10:28 AM

I like how St Louis sometimes gets prospective starters' feet wet with some time in their major league bullpen, as much as a full season, and I would like to see some of that here too.

Berrios is definitely ahead of Meyer--and likely several others.Meyer has been moved from "prospect" to "prayer" in the player rankings.If he can turn it around--great!But, pinning hopes on a shoulder-injured player who rarely pitches six innings?No, folks this guy is a prospect (at 24!) he is a prayer.I hope he makes it--but the probability as a dependible rotation guy is too long of a shot.No, I'm not advocating to "shoot this horse", but I'm not going to bet on him--nor should the Twins.Simply play him and hope (and pray).


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