The Situation: With the wheels falling off the proverbial bus that is the Twins’ rotation, Minnesota has turned to their prized arm, Jose Berrios, to save the day. After a back issue derailed Ervin Santana, Tyler Duffey, called up to replace him, caught a comebacker on the shoulder and is day-to-day. The 21-year-old Berrios will likely slide into this spot in the rotation for now, but struggling pitchers Tommy Milone and Kyle Gibson appear to be the likely candidates to be bumped once Santana returns. Berrios’ call-up coincides nicely with a shuffle of young talent between Triple-A and the majors and the passing of his service-time issues, but there is apparent need for reinforcements as the Twins attempt to turn around their horrid start to the season.
Background: Drafted with the 32nd pick in the 2012 draft out of high school, Berrios left Puerto Rico for the rolling hills of the Appalachian League, where he began his rapid ascent through the minors. After spending all of 2013 in A ball, where he struggled with control issues, Berrios hit his stride in 2014, traversing three leagues and reaching Triple-A. While always highly-regarded prior to the draft, Berrios saw his stock steadily rise as he coasted through the minors. Berrios’ minor-league numbers and pure stuff were enough to net him Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year in back-to-back seasons. After posting a 1.06 ERA through his first three starts at Rochester, the Twins have seen enough and have given Berrios a chance to test his stuff at the big league level.
Scouting Report: Berrios is the rare starter to flash three plus pitches, each lethal in their own right. The fastball can touch 95 and sits 93-94 with arm-side run to both sides of the plate. This pitch is still improving, and a bump in sitting velocity shouldn’t surprise, as he adds muscle to his frame. Berrios has solid command of his fastball, and has little trouble locating it for strikes.
The secondaries are even more exciting. Berrios uses a 10-5 curve as his strikeout pitch, and hitters haven’t done much besides flail at it at any level. The pitch has sharp, two-plane action and late horizontal movement that should agonize right-handed hitters. His command of the deuce can waver, but if Berrios can locate it consistently, it should tick up another notch. Berrios attacks left-handers with his changeup, another plus pitch that he hides well. Expect to see hitters struggle with its effective fade.
Although some may have concerns with the atypical frame for a starting pitcher (he’s only 6-feet, 185 pounds), Berrios has the physicality and strong lower half to rack up innings. Described as a “workout warrior” in the 2016 BP Annual, the right-hander has both the drive and physique to handle a starters workload. His plus arm speed, high leg kick, and easy delivery allow him to generate velocity while still remaining loose and comfortable on the mound.
Immediate Big League Future: With Berrios’ arsenal and track record, expecting immediate major league success is not unreasonable. His secondaries should allow him to rack up strikeouts, even if the ERA doesn’t look as pretty as advertised. Control issues have plagued Berrios in the past, and avoiding the free pass continues to be the key to his success—something he's done successfully the last few seasons. The ace upside is still in play, but even worst case, it's hard to imagine Berrios being any worse than Tommy Milone in his first tour of the majors. Berrios should stabilize the Twins’ wobbly rotation in the short term and could sit atop it by the end of the season. – Will Haines
Fantasy Impact: Based on his draft standing this spring, Berrios’ call-up shouldn’t be viewed as a surprise. He was taken in the 19th round of Tout Wars Mixed Draft league, the 20th round of LABR Mixed, and was the 269th selection on average in NFBC leagues. Heading into 2016, the expectation from Berrios was that he would at a minimum provide 15-team mixed league value as a back-end starting pitcher. Even with the possibility of an innings cap, a late April call-up gives him a chance of delivering this type of value fairly easily.
Berrios’ raw stuff is great, but it is his presence on the mound and excellent makeup that give him the potential to be a solid fantasy investment right out of the gate. Going back to 2015, Berrios has posted a 2.82 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP, and 106 strikeouts in 95 2/3 innings at Triple-A. The usual caveats apply to Berrios that apply to every rookie pitcher ever, but Berrios has a high ceiling and could put up solid numbers right out of the gate for his fantasy owners. PECOTA’s 50th rest-of-the-season percentile projection of a 3.82 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP feels far more like a floor than it does a mid-tier projection for Berrios. Strikeout rates generally drop from Triple-A to the majors for young pitchers, but a whiff rate of eight batters per nine innings is possible.
The FAAB/waiver claim discussion with Berrios is an academic one. In AL-only and 15-team mixed leagues, Berrios is the prize jewel of many farm systems and reserve lists. If for some reason he is available in either one of these formats, you must bid aggressively this coming weekend. A $60 bid (out of $100 budget) in AL-only and a $40-50 bid in 15-team mixed may sound extreme, but Berrios is the kind of pitcher who could catapult your team to a title if he delivers on his potential right out of the gate. If he doesn’t, that is a big chunk of change to lose, but considering the impact top-flight young arms have made in recent years in fantasy baseball, the upside is worth the risk. – Mike Gianella
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