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The Twins' Coming Ace

Jose Berrios has been overshadowed since arriving with the Twins in 2012 by a pair of elite prospects, but has emerged in his own right as one of the elite pitching prospects in baseball, and is on the cusp of contributing to fantasy teams this year.

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

When you've been writing about a topic for 6+ years (like I have with fantasy baseball), one of the things that can seem to occur from time to time is a feeling of deja vu. Concentrating on minor leaguers will do that inherently, since they take multiple years to get to the majors and the good ones will be written about on a regular basis.  So it is always interesting to me when I have written about a player on multiple occasions and still find new things to discuss. This is the case with the Twins' top pitching prospect, Jose Berrios.

I wrote a fairly in-depth profile on Berrios back in May of last year, right in the middle of his time at AA Chattanooga. At the time, I had him pegged as a potential #2 or #3 fantasy starter, and anticipated that he'd be the recipient of a call-up at some point during the 2016 season on the basis that he wouldn't spend a lot of time at AAA in 2015. However, after notching 92 strikeouts in 90 innings across 15 starts at AA, the Twins promoted Berrios to AAA ahead of my anticipated schedule, and he threw another 75 innings there over 12 starts.

With the Twins staying in the race for a playoff spot late into September, there was speculation that Berrios might have been called up to work out of the bullpen down the stretch. However, with 166 innings thrown (37 more than the previous season), they instead opted to shut him down for the year in early September. There was a lot of second guessing on how Berrios' workload was managed through the year given that the Twins ended up finishing three games out of a wild card spot, but overall he appears to have been managed well throughout the minors.

Berrios' performance last season didn't necessarily change the potential ceiling of what he can be for fantasy, but definitely moved his floor up quite a bit and increased the likelihood of reaching that ceiling. He showed that the potential to be a mid-rotation starting pitcher for the Twins and a #3 fantasy starter is likely the worst-case scenario for what he can be, assuming good health.

Those last few starts at the end of the year gave us a glimpse of just how dominant he could be potentially. Over his last six starts of the season, he struck out 49, walked 3, and held hitters to a .487 OPS over 38 innings pitched. That included going seven innings in 3 of the 6 starts, striking out 8+ in four of the starts, and a WHIP in each start of under 1.00. While obviously a short sample, it was a dominant stretch to say the least, and can give us at least some indication of what can be possible for Berrios.

The question for this year stems more from matters of service time and displacement of veterans. The Twins currently have Kyle Gibson, Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes slotted into the front of the rotation, with Ricky Nolasco, Tyler Duffey, and Tommy Milone likely expected to fill in the last two spots. Given that the Twins don't need to bring up Berrios to start the year, and that he is not already on the 40-man roster, it seems extremely likely that instead he goes back to AAA to make 10-12 starts, and rather we see him in the majors sometime in the second half of the year. An injury could move that timetable up somewhat, but I think it's more likely we don't see Berrios until well into the month of June.

Long term, Berrios should end up as the leader of that staff, and potentially of your fantasy staff as well. On the strength of his excellent three-pitch repertoire, above-average command, and excellent athleticism, he can be a four-category contributor who provides elite strikeouts across a 200+ inning workload. I wouldn't say that he necessarily can be a top 10 option at the position in part because I'm not convinced yet that he can translate into a 225+ inning workload at that level. However, it would not surprise me in the slightest if in a year's time, he's viewed in the same range as Noah Syndergaard is right now, toward the back end of the top 20 despite only a single season of performance.