It has been an exciting week for those who have been waiting for prospect pitchers to arrive. First we had Blake Snell make his MLB debut against the Yankees over the weekend, and before Sean Manaea and Michael Fulmer make their debuts on Friday, we got a taste of Jose Berrios Wednesday evening as he faced the Indians at home. The 21-year-old right-hander has been impressive in his time in AAA, holding a 103/22 K per BB in 92.2 innings with a FIP under 2.80 in both 2015 and 2016. Berrios features a Fastball that ranges from the low-to-upper 90s. His Changeup and Curveball round out the repertoire, and I was itching to see what the top prospect had for us as he began his rookie season in the majors. Here is Jose Berrios‘ GIF Breakdown of his MLB Debut in 12 HD GIFs.
As always with GIF Breakdowns, let’s first take a look at Berrios’ strikezone plot for the evening:
The first thing you’ll notice is the heavy amount of pitches off the plate arm-side. Berrios had difficulty finishing his pitches often, which may have been a product of stepping onto a major legaue mound for the first time, but it does grow some early concerns for his ability to jump ahead in counts. It could be a product of his slightly tilted arm slot that has him throwing more often across his body than north-south. You’ll also notice that Berrios rarely missed down in the strikezone. Throwing his Curveball + Changeup below the knees can be effective tools to get batters chasing deeper in counts and I expect to see more of it in the future. Finally, while at times he was able to work both sides of the plate, he’ll need to develop more consistency hitting the glove side of the plate with his Fastball moving forward. It’s a decent strikezone plot – the amount of Curveballs for strikes is a welcome sight – but there are clearly elements where Berrios can grow as he collects more time in a Twins uniform.
Alright, let’s get to the fun stuff. As an added bonus, we got a great look of Berrios’ smooth delivery to the plate, featuring an exagerrated leg kick and easy follow-through:
Berrios looked to feature a combo of Two-Seamers and Four-Seamers, though it could have been Berrios simply gassing it up for some pitches, or emphasizing lateral movement on others. Either way, he flashed excellent command at times with the pitch, such as this painted heater to Yan Gomes that should have been called strike three:
There was one pitch sequence in particular that highlighted Berrios’ upside with his Fastball command as he faced Tyler Naquin to lead off the third inning. Berrios gets ahead quickly with a good Fastball on the outer third of the plate:
Instead of turning to a breaking pitch or even doubling down on the outer half, Berrios had both the confidence and talent to challenge Naquin on the inside corner with the same pitch, and it was beautiful:
Suddenly Berrios is ahead 0-2 not by getting good movement, but rather executing his Fastball perfectly. While the at-bat didn’t finish as planned, this flash of brilliant command is one half of Berrios’ Fastball upside. The other? The movement the pitch can generate:
This pitch is a double-edged sword. At first it’s remeniscent of the classic “Daniel Bard Fastball” with its incredibly late movement that pulls the ball off the plate, but it also represents the constant struggle Berrios had through the evening with his command – especially as his pitch count climbed in the fourth and fifth innings. There is a lot of potential here for Berrios to grow (after all, it was apparent that MLB debut jitters had an effect on his performance), and harnessing this movement is a key to his success. I have faith that he will develop the ability to command his Fastball at will – his misses were consistent misses instead of making mistakes in all corners of the strikezone – and I’m excited to see how his heater develops in his future outings.
Berrios relies on both his Changeup and Curveball nearly equally, using both pitches against lefties and righties. His Curveball didn’t feature the aggresive bite of other exciting young pitchers such as Blake Snell or Steven Matz, but it developed as the game progressed. Early on, the pitch was inducing weak contact, such as this soft comebacker from Jose Ramirez:
Being able to rely on the hook in a 2-2 count for an out is a major plus, and a quick display of Berrios’ uncommon maturity for a pitcher his age. By the third inning, we saw more downward bite on his yacker, earning the strikeout against Jason Kipnis:
This pitch could be common place for Berrios, though it’s missing that little extra bite that would elevate Berrios into an elite strikeout threat. There is a wild card, however, as we saw a curveball with unusual horizontal break against Marlon Byrd in the fourth:
It does appear Berrios tilted his arm angle a little to get the extra lateral movement on the pitch, which could become a rare offering as he works deeper into games – the pitch fooled Byrd after all. But despite all of these solid hook, there is a good amount of work left to do with his Curveball. Direct your attention to this attempt at a deuce in the fourth:
Berrios through about five of these Curveballs just like this one through the night, and it’s part of the overall theme of Berrios’ command. It could have been a product of the innate nerves from pitching in his MLB Debut, it could be his general lack of polish with his breaking ball. Either way, he’ll have to work to make sure he finishes his pitches and not let the ball fly out arm-side as these pitches were way too common if Berrios is to become a top of the line starter.
Mixed with his Curveball is a Changeup that Berrios loved to throw when behind in the count. For example, the very first slow ball we saw was in a 2-1 count to Jason Kipnis, and it made a lasting impression:
That’s simply a beautiful pitch. Kipnis is expecting Fastball all the way, and Berrios plants the ball away at the knees with near 10 MPH difference and fade off the plate. It takes a mature pitcher to A) have the confidence to throw this pitch behind in the count and B) execute it flawlessly for the first one of the day. After raising my expectations with that single pitch, I was expecting an Aaron Nola–esque performance the rest of the way – boy was I wrong as Berrios simply didn’t feature this type of Changeup command through his start. Take a look at this offering to Carlos Santana:
I want you to watch the last two pitches one after the other. Can you tell the difference in his mechanics? When hitting his spot on the outside corner, Berrios lands almost square to the plate, fully balanced and ready to field the ball. When he missed heavily arm-side, he pulls himself toward the first-base side in his follow-through. This tells me he’s either A) Overthrowing or B) Getting too much on the side of the baseball. It’s a simple mechanics issue that applies to all of his pitches and one he can work to fix in future outings. Then there were the times when he couldn’t get the release timing correct:
It’s a bit disconcerting to see Berrios struggle this much with his Changeup. It has such tantalizing upside at times, but the inconsistency with a pitch that he wants to throw in a 1-0 count makes me a little worried. As mentioned many times already, it’s possible he wasn’t on top of his game given the circumstances and we’ll see an improved overall command in future outings. If he can replicate the first Changeup often, Berrios can collect plenty of strikeouts, while collecting quick outs against batters eager to make contact early in the count. I have faith it will be better than tonight’s selection, but ultimately we’ll have to wait and see.
Final Line: 4.0 IP, 5 ER, 6 Hits, 2 BBs, 5 Ks in 93 Pitches
The line looks a lot worse than Berrios actually was. There is a lot to be excited about from Jose, and it’s not out of the question that he produces Top 35 production the rest of the way. The biggest factor comes down to his command, which created very uncomfortable at-bats when on point. His Fastball has good life and excellent movement that looks to within his reach to polish and control from the first pitch to the last. His Changeup features excellent break, but needs to become a more consistent pitch down in the zone. Berrios’ breaking ball is a Curveball that has upside to collect strikeouts, but doesn’t have the elite movement to miss bats when left up in the zone. His confidence in his repertoire suggests that the command will come together as he tallies more innings in the bigs, making him a possible high impact pitcher for fantasy squads. His command problems could be rooted from overthrowing a bit and pulling himself glove side a little too hard (keep the front shoulder closed!), and it’s possible that he makes a small tweak and greatly improves his command . I’m very interested in watch Jose’s future starts now that he’s gotten his debut out of the way, and if you were considering cutting him after a weak opening night, I suggest reconsidering.
As always, I’ll leave with a pitch that encapsulates the featured pitcher. Here with have Jose Berrios striking out Jose Ramirez with a Fastball featuring excellent ride across the plate: