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Minnesota sports, as seen elsewhere

Wentz proud of Dakota upbringing; Fitzgerald offers advice to draftees

The No. 1 pick of the 2016 NFL draft will be announced Thursday night. Will it be North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz? The consensus is that Wentz will be the No. 2 pick, not No. 1.

Is that because he isn’t prepared for playing “tougher competition” in the NFL?

A recent essay published by Wentz in The Players' Tribune was focused on how individuals think there is a disadvantage to growing up and playing football in North Dakota. He had a strong rebuttal. Here is an excerpt from his essay:

There’s this belief that I’m at some sort of disadvantage coming into the league because of where I’m from. But if you get to know me, you’ll understand that being from North Dakota isn’t a disadvantage. Not even close. In fact, having been raised in North Dakota is probably one of my greatest strengths.

Let me tell you right now — football is football, no matter if it’s played in the Rose Bowl or on a dusty field in Bismarck. Those warm southern states may produce the most NFL talent, but there’s a special brand of football going on up north.

Wentz said North Dakota football breeds toughness when you jam fingers into ice-cold helmets or get decked on frozen cement-like dirt. Minnesotans can relate to these conditions.

The Players' Tribune published a handful of essays from prospects and current NFL stars leading up to Thursday night’s draft. Among those featured was the Vikings' consensus first-round pick from various mock drafts, Mississippi wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.

The 6-2, 221-pounder grew up in a neighborhood where TV and video games weren’t important and he fell in love with football playing the game in the streets late into the night.

The way Treadwell describes his commitment to the game and desire to win is impressive. He sounds like the type of guy Vikings coach Mike Zimmer would like on his team.

Here is an excerpt from his essay:

My senior year, I told myself I was not leaving high school without a state championship. I wanted to go out on top.

And I did. We went undefeated and won the state championship for the first time in school history. I won some individual awards along the way and ended up as the second-leading receiver in Illinois history — and I truly value those honors and accomplishments — but I was playing for the title. All I wanted was that ring.

Championship mindset.

I didn’t watch TV as a kid, and to this day I still don’t. So the first time I really saw NFL players wasn’t on my television.

It was on the field in the SEC.

Minnesota’s own Larry Fitzgerald offered advice to Wentz, Treadwell and the rest of the 2016 draft class in an open letter to The Players' Tribune.

Fitzgerald, a Minneapolis native and Holy Angels product, was the third overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft. The 6-3, 225-pound wide receiver has matured into a nine-time Pro Bowler and one-time First Team All-Pro.

He reminded the newest draft class to block out criticism, surround oneself with good people to help make wise decisions, and enjoy the moment.

Here are some excerpts from his letter:

You’re going to become an employee of the most popular sports league on the planet. Not a lot of people get their dream job immediately out of college, but you’re one of the lucky few. That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment on its own, and one you can take pride in forever. From this day forward, regardless of what happens next, you will always have the distinction of being drafted to play in the NFL. …

The past few weeks, I’m sure you’ve been reading different things online about your strengths and weaknesses as a player. You’ve spent your whole life playing this game, and people are trying to predict your future based on one drill you ran in a stuffy dome or on one measurement that came up an inch or two below average. I know this is easier said than done, but try to shut that stuff out. …

Just as you should ignore the bad things said about you, it’s just as important not to buy into your own hype either.

Berrios hopes to follow example of these former top pitching prospects

The Twins called up top pitching prospect Jose Berrios Tuesday and the 21-year-old is expected to make his major league debut Wednesday night at Target Field against Cleveland.

Berrios, the hard-throwing righthander from Puerto Rico selected in the first round of the 2012 draft, has been touted as the Twins’ best starter since Johan Santana. In three starts at Class AAA Rochester this season, Berrios is 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 20 strikeouts.

Expectations will be high for Berrios’ big-league debut.

The last highly touted pitching prospect to debut with the Twins was righthander Alex Meyer. The former first-round draft pick entered 2015 as’s 29th-best prospect, but Meyer struggled in his big-league debut last June and made only one more appearance before returning to the minor leagues. He gave up four hits (two home runs), three walks, struck out three and allowed five runs in 2 2/3 with the Twins.  

Meyer was called up with Berrios this week.

In honor of Berrios’ debut, here’s a look at how some of the best young prospects have debuted over the past 15 years:

Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets
May 12, 2015
Syndergaard debuted last May and quickly became one of the National League’s top arms. His debut was highlighted by six strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings, but he walked four and gave up six hits and three earned runs to pick up the loss. He won his first game five days later while striking out five batters and allowing just one run in six innings.

Michael Wacha, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
May 30, 2013
The former first-round draft pick (19th overall) struck out six, walked none, and gave up just two hits and one earned run in seven innings pitched. The bullpen spoiled his strong start, though, and he finished with a no-decision. Wacha has become one of the best pitchers in the game and was an all-star in 2015.

Jose Fernandez, RHP, Florida Marlins
April 7, 2013
The Cuban-born hard-throwing righthanded pitcher made his debut at age 20. He struck out eight, walked one, gave up just three hits and one run in his first start. The former first-round draft pick finished his rookie season with a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA and 187 strikeouts in 172 2/3 innings pitched.

Matt Harvey, RHP, New York Mets
July 26, 2012
The “Dark Knight” debuted with a superhero-like effort. Harvey collected 11 strikeouts, walked three, gave up just three hits and shut out Arizona in 5 1/3 innings of work for a 3-1 Mets’ victory.

Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington Nationals
June 8, 2010
This was arguably one of the most-hyped debuts in recent years. More than 40,000 fans stuffed Nationals Park to see the former No. 1 overall draft pick make his first start. Strasburg responded by striking out 14 batters and walking none in seven innings. He gave up just four hits, including a two-run home run, but the Nationals won 5-2.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP, Boston Red Sox
April 5, 2007
Matsuzaka debuted as the Red Sox ace and immediately performed like one. He struck out 10 and walked one in seven innings while outdueling Zack Greinke. Matsuzaka allowed six hits, walked one and gave up just one run in a 4-1 victory. He struck out 10 batters again in his third big-league start.

Mark Prior, RHP, Chicago Cubs, RHP
May 22, 2002
Prior debuted in the big leagues less than a year after he was drafted. He struck out 10 in six innings, gave up four hits, two walks and two runs, to lead the Cubs to a 7-4 victory over Pittsburgh. Prior struck out 10-plus in six of his 19 starts as a rookie and helped lead the Cubs to the National League Championship Series.

Jason Jennings, RHP, Colorado Rockies
Aug. 23, 2001
The former No. 16 overall pick threw a complete-game shutout in his debut while striking out eight, giving up five hits and walking four. He also was 3-for-5 from the plate with a home run.