Drafted in the supplemental first round by the Twins in 2012, Jose Berrios was a bit overlooked when reviews of Minnesota's draft class were coming out that year. Overlooked is relative though, as the Twins also had the #2 overall pick and got one of the better prospects in years in Byron Buxton. Even with that, Berrios has more than established himself as one of the top pitching prospects in the minors since signing for a slot bonus of $1.55 million.
He made his professional debut the same year in the Gulf Coast League, where he worked primarily as a reliever in part to limit his innings. The Twins moved him up to the Appy League to finish the year, where he helped Elizabethton to a playoff run. Overall he finished with a total of 49 strikeouts against four walks in 30 innings pitched. He moved up to full-season ball in 2013, spending the season at Low-A Cedar Rapids after appearing with Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. He threw a total of 103 innings in the minors, striking out 100, walking 40, and posting a 3.99 ERA and 1.399 WHIP.
2014 was a breakout campaign for Berrios, starting in High-A Fort Myers. He made 16 starts there before being promoted to AA in July. He was solid over his eight starts there, and was sent to AAA to finish up the season for his final start. Overall, he saw improved strikeout and walk rates while throwing an additional 36 innings over the previous season as a 20-year old. He has returned to AA to start this year, and has 28 strikeouts in 22 innings (not including Saturday's start) so far.
Berrios isn't necessarily the size you'd like to see from a right handed starting prospect, standing 6' even and weighing 185 lbs. That height generally leads to questions about the ability to get good downward plane on his pitches, which he did struggle a little bit with in the starts I watched. It's a bit nitpicky though once you start looking at his full profile, as his overall potential is extremely interesting for fantasy.
Berrios features a three pitch repertoire consisting of a fastball, changeup, and breaking ball. There are some reports of him featuring a fourth pitch, which I'll get to in a little bit. His delivery is fairly easy and repeatable, which is helped by his overall athleticism. He also gets excellent reviews on his competitiveness and makeup, and they sound like a pitcher that actively attacks hitters as opposed to trying to just get them out.
His fastball is a potential plus offering, touching as high as 98 during a couple of his starts so far this year. It generally will sit in the mid-90s, although it does not have a ton of movement to it. The pitch seems to explode out of his hand regardless, and I remember being surprised when the broadcasters reported that velocity while watching the pitch. He would also have some moments where he seemed to be trying to get a little more on the fastball, leading to overthrowing and losing his control of the pitch.
Berrios' changeup has turned into a much better offering as he has worked with it more, and is considered a potential above-average offering for him. The differential between it and the fastball was visible in terms of velocity, but I couldn't really tell any significant difference in arm speed between the two pitches. It bodes well as a potential strikeout offering as he continues to throw it even more.
His breaking ball is a bit different in terms of classification. Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs noted that Berrios views it as the same pitch, one a slow curveball and one a fast curveball. With that said, they do clearly behave a little different based on the velocity, and so can end up being labeled both a curveball and a slider depending on which you see. I would classify them as different pitches since they will look fairly different to batters, but honestly it's not all that relevant how you classify them. The slow curve gets more downward break, and looks a lot more like a traditional 12-to-6 style curveball:
When Berrios throws the fast curve, it tends to look a bit more like a slider, and generally would be classified more as a slurve than a slider:
Regardless of which way he throws it, both options have the potential to be both a plus offering as well as a key strikeout pitch. Adding in the fact that the hitter has to look for the pitch to come in at both velocities gives Berrios just that much more of an advantage. He threw the curve as more of a chase offering in most of the starts, but was throwing the breaking ball a lot in each start and was able to put it in the strike zone as well.
Overall, his command generally looked pretty good, and has been given reports to match on his potential future command. He does have some work to do on his fastball when he's trying to dial it up to the high-90s, but nothing I saw makes me think that won't improve as the season progresses. He generates ground balls at an excellent rate, posting rates above 40% each year in the minors according to MLBfarm.com.
Long-term, Berrios has the potential to be a high strikeout pitcher that can potentially post solid ratios to go with them. He probably doesn't turn into a fantasy ace, but rather fits into that next group that generally fils the second or third spot in a fantasy rotation. The Twins have tended to be a bit passive when it comes to promoting their prospects into the majors, and it would surprise me if Berrios saw the majors at any point in 2015. More likely, a late season promotion to AAA and a potential call up at some point during 2016 seems more likely, especially given the fact that the Twins have three starters (Santana, Nolasco and Hughes) under contract through 2017 to go along with Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer and Trevor May to fill the last two spots. It may take a little longer for him to establish himself because he's in the Twins organization, but he's still well worth the investment. I ranked him as my #72 fantasy prospect at the start of the season, and I think he'll be fairly firmly established in the top 50 in my midseason rankings.