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Jose Berrios entered the season ranked number two on the Twins prospect sheet here at Baseball Prospectus, having trailed no. 1 Minnesota prospect Byron Buxton through his professional tenure. Getting ranked above Buxton was out of his control, but Berrios did everything in his power to vault up the rankings, with a steady rise up the charts since he was taken in the supplemental first round of the 2012 draft.

2016: No. 17 overall, No. 2 organizational rank

2015: No. 48 overall, No. 5 organizational rank

2014: No. 75 overall, No. 6 organizational rank

2013: No. NR overall, No. 7 organizational rank

Berrios was one of my favorite pitchers of that draft class, with what I thought was the best delivery of the draft. His momentum was incredible, more than making up for his modest size (Berrios is listed at six-foot even) with solid distance at release point. The approach is looked down upon by some organizations, and Berrios had a slower delivery in his first full season as a pro, but he rediscovered the old burst and timing after that season and has been dominating minor-league bats ever since. The final tally in the minors: 461.1 combined innings of a 2.91 ERA, 9.5 K/9 (25.9 percent of batters faced) and 2.5 BB/9 (6.8 percent), including a 1.06 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 17.0 innings of Triple-A ball this season.

The hype was palpable as Berrios toed the rubber for his debut on a cold, blustery night, in a game that was delayed nearly an hour by rain. The wind was blowing in, setting the stage for Berrios to dominate the light lineup of the Indians, but there are so many variables at play for a rookie's debut that the realm of expectations was busted wide open.

Game Stats

IP

R

H

BB

K

PC

April 27

4

5

6

2

5

93

Berrios struggled with pitch command throughout the outing, and though he only totaled a pair of walks out of the 20 batters that he faced, he was also pitching from behind in the count for much of the evening. He threw first-pitch strikes to just seven of the 20 hitters, and the massive frequency of arm-side misses made it nearly impossible for him to locate a pitch down-and-away from right-handed bats, nor could he go inside to lefties. Check out his plot of pitch locations, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

The above chart represents the catcher's point-of-view, so the array of dots on the left side of the graphic represent pitches that missed far to the right of the plate due to Berrios missing arm-side with his targets. The arm-side misses were a constant interference to his pitch plan on Wednesday, impacting all pitch types, from pitches with arm-side movement (like the sinker and change) to straight-up four-seamers that were poorly located. This walk to Tyler Naquin offers a good example of the results that infected Berrios throughout his outing:

It's easy to think of the implications of poor command when focusing on the pitcher's point of view, but when those misses have a consistency to them then the pitcher makes life really easy on opposing hitters. In Wednesday's game, Indians batters had no need to think about the left side of the plate and were allowed to hone in on one side of the dish. Throw in the prevalence with which those batters were in fastball counts, and Berrios quickly found himself in a position where he had no choice but to fall prey to the best bats on the planet. At that point, he might as well be tipping his pitches.

The velocity was solid, as Berrios spiked 97.0 mph in the first inning, but after the first 5-10 pitches the velo never again crept over 95 mph and he sat 92-94 on the final 15 pitches of his outing. The weighted average of his 55 fastballs (combined two- and four-seam) was 93.9 mph and represented 69-percent of his pitches thrown. He mixed in a low-80s curveball and a mid-80s change, though the off-speed pitch clearly lagged behind the other offerings, at least on this night. Perhaps it would have been more impressive if Berrios could command the change, but 11 of the 16 cambios that he threw missed so far to the outside as to be completely wasted pitches.

The curve was nasty at times, and the one player who felt the brunt was Jason Kipnis, who was responsible for both of the first two strikeouts of Berrios' career.

The curve was very sharp when he lined up the delivery, with a fastball trajectory out-of-hand and bite that was as steep as it was late, but the pitch flattened out when Berrios released the curve prior to reaching full extension, resulting in elevated pitches that opposing batters had no trouble identifying. The fastball had both velocity and movement, but the lack of command of the heater did Berrios in on Wednesday, compromising the other aspects of his stuff. Everything plays off the fastball, and though his arm-side run should serve him well in the long term, in his debut Berrios struggled to find that deep release point that has made him so successful in the minors.

Nerves are common among young players when making their MLB debut, and the most common result is a tendency for a late arm due to a rushed delivery and a mistimed trigger. Berrios had a trigger that was mistimed, alright, but the underlying mechanics were anything but a rush.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

60

Momentum

55

Torque

60

Posture

65

Repetition

40

Overall

B

What impressed me so much about Berrios as an amateur was his incredible blend of stability and power, with excellent momentum and a well-timed trigger that allowed the hips to rotate and create separation after foot strike. Shorter pitchers tend to have a larger burst to the plate, allowing them to make up for the biological disadvantages in generating depth at release point, but their “slight” frames and “high effort” deliveries are often tossed into the bullpen at the first sign of struggle. My biggest fear was that the Twins would follow this convention when directing Berrios' development, and those fears were realized when Berrios slowed down his delivery in his first full season as a pro. That was his worst campaign from a performance standpoint, but he improved his momentum as well as his numbers over the past two seasons and was recently reaping the benefits of his powerful delivery.

His trigger-timing was clearly off-kilter in this game, and to add to the difficulties Berrios had a number of deliveries in which he exaggerated the closed angle of his stride, directing his momentum at the right-hand batter's box rather than the target (see the GIF of the Naquin walk). Some pitchers do better with a closed angle, and even when he lined up the gears Berrios was slightly closed, but on too many deliveries he was putting himself in a misaligned position at release point, such that the issue was likely related to his plethora of arm-side misses.

Berrios was disappointingly slow from the windup, with 50-55 grade momentum that was inconsistent in general, though it was consistently slower than the superior burst that he showed in the minors. At peak, he has shown a 65-grade burst to the plate that allows him to safely add kinetic energy to the system and brings him closer to the plate at release point. The delivery looked better from the stretch, with no knock to his stability but a sudden increase of momentum, and the bigger burst helped him to line up the gears to reach full extension at release point. In this sense, it wasn't a coincidence that his best pitches of the day occurred while throwing from the stretch, in which his momentum was greater and his timing was more consistent. The above grades represent his delivery from the windup, but from the stretch we can comfortable tack on an additional 5-10 points to both his momentum and his balance. The whole package earns a B+ grade at peak, with the potential to cross over into the A zone with consistency and baseline improvement; what was on display Wednesday was merely a B-grade delivery, and that might be generous.

Perhaps it was just nerves, and maybe Berrios was going out of his way to slow everything down – including his delivery from the windup – but his debut performance should not be taken as a harbinger of things to come. The misalignment and too-closed stride should be a relatively easy fix (as we saw earlier in the year with Madison Bumgarner), and the combination of raw stuff and solid baseline mechanics fully support his lofty prospect rankings. The key will be in finding consistency from windup to stretch and allowing his natural timing to play out in each situation.

Will Berrios make some adjustments in start number two? Tune in to find out.

Thank you for reading

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SansRig
5/02
Thank you! This was fantastic. I can’t wait for round two in a few hours.