Jose Berrios always had the stuff to be an ace. That's why he was a first-round pick in the 2012 draft. That's why he was one of the top 20 prospects in baseball. And that's why his 2016 season — his first season in the majors — was so puzzling.
Young pitchers are going to struggle coming up to the big leagues, even phenoms with an excellent fastball and two plus secondary offerings.
Even pitchers that mowed down the competition in the minor leagues.
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The Twins called up Berrios in April of 2016. He was 21 years old and his arrival was seen by Minnesota fans as the impetus for a turnaround of the team's languid fortunes.
It didn't work out that way.
Berrios couldn't translate that minor league success to the big-league level — he was sent back down to Triple-A Rochester after four poor starts, the last being a seven-run shelling that chased him from the contest in the first inning, before coming back up in August.
Berrios was awesome when he went back to Triple-A, posting a 2.51 ERA with a sub-1 WHIP, but in 14 starts at the major-league level last year he posted an 8.02 ERA and 1.87 WHIP.
The Twins' top pitching phenom was looking like a Quadruple-A player.
Bruce KluckhohnUSA TODAY Sports
But Berrios' start to 2017 has proved that he is far from that — right now he's the first-place Twins' ace and one of the most exciting players in baseball.
Wednesday, he notched his third win of the season with a 6.1-inning, four-hit, seven-strikeout performance over Baltimore, which included this wicked curveball punch-out. (How do you hit that?)
In his three starts this season Berrios has a 1.66 ERA, 22 strikeouts, and a 0.55 WHIP.
Jose Berrios has arrived.
The Twins last made the postseason in 2010. Since then, the team has lost an average of 94 games per year as part of a rebuilding process that seems to have only built more bad teams.
Disappointment was becoming commonplace in the Twin Cities and the fan base was becoming jaded.
It's easy to understand how things could get that way — Byron Buxton, the top prospect in baseball and the player who was supposed to spark a turnaround at Target Field, looked overmatched in his first two years at the big-league level (he still does). Having Berrios look like a Quad-A player as well was beyond disheartening.
Things looked like they might be turning around when Berrios had a nice first start of the year — pitching into the eighth and allowing only one run against the Indians.
But it was Berrios' 11-strikeout performance against the Rockies on May 18 that made it clear a corner had been turned.
Minnesota could sure use an ace like Berrios. Twins pitching has finished dead last five times (and no better than 28th) in the past seven seasons in strikeouts per nine innings — stuck around 7 or less, even though strikeout totals are rising league-wide every year — and Berrios, clearly, has the ability to strike out double-digit batters every outing.
And given the Twins' starters' low strikeout totals, it shouldn't be surprising that they have the second-worst normalized FIP in baseball.
Ervin Santana might be having a strong year, but that 1.80 ERA is due to elevate — he has a FIP of 4.10. That's not an ace of a playoff-contending team (Minnesota has a better record than the Orioles, Red Sox and Rangers).
An ace looks like Berrios.
Berrios' curveball and changeup are diabolical and he's excellent at releasing the pitches in the same place, for maximum deception — that's wisdom beyond his years.
Fastball control can be a problem with Berrios, though — he's far from a finished product in that area — and that brings on games like Wednesday's, when three of the four hits he allowed were homers.
Still, compared to where Berrios was last year, the Twins have to be thrilled.
No one knows what will happen with the Twins this year — they're not hitting, and Berrios has seemingly established himself as an ace in three games, so the pitching isn't all that great either, and yet they're in first place.
Defense has a lot to do with that, and it's another reason to be optimistic that Berrios' stellar start to the season isn't the set-up for an even more heartbreaking fall.
Jose Berrios is a spellbinding talent who is proving that he's going to be a spellbinding major-league player. The future is now in Minnesota, and it has a wicked curveball.