Thus far in 2018, there's been lots of talk surrounding the Minnesota Twins. Paul Molitor's club has provided talking points relating to everything from their up-and-down record, Miguel Sano's slide, and the emergence of guys like Eddie Rosario and Kyle Gibson. Virtually under the radar, Jose Berrios is beginning to round out into a bonafide ace. The crazy thing is, next to no one is talking about it.
A year ago, Berrios owned a 3.89 ERA and put up a 14-8 record across 25 starts (26 games) for the Twins. In 2018, the young Puerto Rican would start on the Opening Day roster for the first time in his career. He's made 14 starts on the season, and has quickly become must watch baseball. Whether going up against an ace or a 5th starter on the other side, the Twins hurler now has a brand of his own.
Through just under 90 innings this season, Berrios has posted a 3.51 ERA. His 9.1 K/9 is indicative of the strikeout stuff that was always expected of him, and he's cut his walk rate down to a truly impressive 1.5 BB/9 mark. With two complete games, one being a shutout, under his belt already, it's hard to quantify this season as anything but his best yet. What's exciting for both Berrios and the Twins, is that we've likely only scratched the surface.
Just recently turning 24 years old, Berrios has just under 300 big league innings to his credit. This season, he's posting career bests across the board, and his 3.33 FIP along with a 0.948 WHIP suggest that there's room for him to be even better. Efficiency has been something he's struggled with in the past, but working two complete tilts already has displayed a further amount of maturity. Walks have also been something Berrios has been plagued by in his early career, but they've become a point of emphasis in 2018, and an avenue of growth that's been significantly exploited.
Diving into his arsenal and surrounding numbers, Berrios' output provides one of the biggest areas for excitement. He's still throwing with the same velocity, and his usage rates across all pitches remains nearly identical to career norms. The results have equated to a career best 11.8% swinging strike rate, and a 35.9% chase rate. His 76.4% contact rate is a career low, and he's still keeping hard hit rates in check. As a summary Berrios really isn't doing anything different with his offerings, but with everything being a bit sharper the results have only continued on an upward trajectory.
The main knock on Jose has always been his stature. Whether or not he would have enough of a downward plane on his fastball to keep it in the park has been a realistic concern. The 1.1 HR/9 mark is a slight increase from a season ago, but it's hardly the 1.9 tally from his big league debut season. Even if there's not much movement made off of that mark, it's hardly a death sentence given the complete formula.
Berrios never got the national love of being an ace, and most projected him as a solid #2 starter. Topping out at 17th on the Baseball Prospectus to prospect list, he saw plenty of fanfare, but not quite enough to put him in elite territory. We don't yet know how this will all play out, but there's little reason to put a ceiling on him anymore. You'll struggle to find anyone willing to outwork the young man, and his abilities are shooting upwards each time he toes the rubber.
Forever, the Twins have needed to develop an impact arm that can shoulder the load of being the guy in the starting rotation. Right now, we're seeing Berrios become not just a premier pitcher for the Twins, but among the best in baseball.