AL Midseason Debuts: Prospects Looking to Make an Impact – #3 José Berríos

With the 2016 season underway, each team looks to compete immediately with the pickups they made in the offseason. But as we saw around the MLB in the 2015, the midseason callups can have as big of an impact as the players obtained in free agency. This series will detail the 5 prospects in the AL looking to make the biggest impact on their respective teams this season.

For the purposes of this series, we will set a few baseline criteria:

  1. The prospect cannot have any previous Major League experience prior to the 2016 season.
  2. The prospect must already be reasonably close to the MLB.
  3. The prospect must play a position of need for his big-league squad, and this need cannot be due to injury.

Be sure to check out the impact cases for the prospects previously covered:

#5 – Sean Manaea, OAK, LHP

#4 – Tim Anderson, CHW, SS

And for the previous series detailing the NL version of this list, check out the posts here.

4. José Berríos, MIN, RHP

When 21 year-old, #16 overall prospect José Berríos debuted for the Minnesota Twins this year, he made history as the highest drafted Puerto Rican pitcher to make it to the majors. Perhaps just as significantly, it marked another step forward in Minnesota’s rebuilding process. As Berríos joins a core in Minnesota that will over time include Byron BuxtonMiguel SanoByung-ho Park, Max Kepler, Alex Meyer, Jorge PolancoNick Gordon, and a few others, the Twins will look to return to regular-contender status. What sets Berríos apart from so many other pitching prospects is his combination of plus offerings and above average control. If his minor league success is any indication of where his talent will play in the majors, Twins fans should be salivating over the possibilities.

As a 20 year-old in 2015, Berríos spent about half the year in AA Chattanooga before earning the promotion to AAA Rochester. He was spectacular in 90.2 innings at AA, with a 3.08 ERA and 3.09 FIP, indicating his results matched his individual performance, and allowing a paltry .228 opposing batting average on a normal .296 BABIP. Not only did he save runs and prevent hits, Berríos maintained incredible control, with a 6.5 BB% and 25.1 K%.

Somehow, after the promotion to AAA, Berríos stepped his stuff up to a different stratum. In 75.2 IP, Berríos posted a measly 2.62 ERA while preserving a 2.79 FIP, and lowered his opposing batting average to .211 on a still normal-ish .278 BABIP. Even then, he exerted jaw-dropping control, with a 27.7 K% and a 4.7 BB%. Going into the 2016 season it was only a matter of time before the young prospect received his chance with the big-league team. In 3 starts, he went 17 innings, with a 1.06 ERA, 2.51 FIP, while dominating with a 30.3 K% and a .143 batting average against. While he saw his control slip (12.1 BB%), Berríos’s stuff was too powerful to keep in the minors, especially after service time concerns had evaporated.

Having made his major league debut on April 27, Berríos has made 3 starts as of this writing. While his results have fallen off slightly (and walk rate has remained poor), the ability is still apparent. Berríos has gone 14.1 innings, with a 6.28 ERA and 5.94 FIP. These numbers are ballooned, however, by an unreasonably high 26.7% HR/FB rate, explaining why his 3.95 xFIP is so much lower. He has not generated many groundballs (33.3%) and has allowed a high batting average (.298). These both come as a result of a very hitter-lucky .382 BABIP, however. The hitter’s luck is more obvious upon noticing the fact that Berríos has a K% of 28.8%. Essentially, the poor hit/run results are in spite of the fact that Berríos has done a phenomenal job overpowering hitters. Opposing batters are likely getting a little bit lucky with hitting the ball into gaps and out of the ballpark when they are able to touch his stuff, that it offsets the time they are whiffing at his other offerings.

As the very young Berríos obtains more experience and the sample size grows, this trend is likely to reverse. He has a stellar 4 pitch offering, with 2 plus fastballs (4-seam, 2-seam), a plus curveball, and an above average change. He has a nice change of speed, with the fastballs averaging a little over 93 mph, the curve at 81 mph, and the change at 85 mph. Additionally, he has great command and faith in each, with a pitch distribution of ~40%/20%/25%/15% on the 4-seam/2-seam/curve/change mix, respectively. Berríos’s wide arsenal of pitching weaponry imbues him with great tools to succeed going forward. He will make a huge impact on the Twins organization as he refines these in the future, but in 2016, they will make an impact because they are already a grade better than the Twins current options.

To begin 2016, the Minnesota rotation consisted of Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes, Tommy Milone, and Ricky Nolasco. Each of the 5 are major league veterans who have generated multiple seasons of solid, but uninspiring results. Santana has a history of 2-3 fWAR seasons in his recent past, and Gibson has produced two seasons in a row at this level, but Hughes, Milone, and Nolasco have been mostly up-and-down over their careers. Since the start of the year, Milone has been demoted to AAA Rochester, while the two more talented pitchers, Gibson and Santana, have fought injuries. None of the five pitchers strike out many batters, nor do any average a fastball even touching the mid 90s. To make matters worse, only Gibson has a track record of generating a lot of groundballs, essentially making the other four homerun liabilities waiting to happen. Their results have substantiated this analysis over the past few years.

While HR/FB rates normally regress to the mean, this only holds true for pitchers that fit certain profiles. The Twins rotation, unfortunately does not fit that profile, nor does it help that the AL Central parks are hitter-friendly, outside of Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field. Playing 81 games at home in hitter friendly Target Field, plus 25 on the road in Comerica Park, Kaufmann Stadium, and Progressive Field does not aid in the success of a pitching staff that isn’t structured to play well in such environments.

Walk-Off Hit: José Berríos 2016 Impact Outlook

José Berríos’s high-strikeout style operates well in the high-flying AL Central, however, by preventing the ball from being put into play. With an aggressive, controlled approach, and solid 4-pitch mix, Berríos can make an immediate impact on the Minnesota rotation in 2016 by challenging and overpowering hitters. This will be a nice reprieve for Minnesota fans, who will have to endure the more subdued approach the rest of the Twin rotation employs. The Twins stumbled out of the gate, going 10-26 to start, but with José Berríos firmly in the major-league rotation, and an excellent core in place for the coming future, the Twins should look to return to contention soon enough.

What do you think? Will José Berríos solidify the Minnesota rotation? Will his minor league success attacking hitters transition to the majors? Do the Twins have enough firepower in prospects to contend soon? What other prospects do you think belong on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @SaberBallBlog. Don’t forget to subscribe to SaberBallBlog by clicking the green “Follow” button in the menu, and follow on Twitter for all of the latest updates on the MLB!

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