FORT MYERS, FLA. – Jose Berrios has discovered that as much as he wants to be in Minnesota, he doesn’t want to be there in January.
Berrios toured the frozen north with catcher John Ryan Murphy during the annual Twins winter caravan.
“Cold,” the 22-year-old pitcher said. “Too cold.”
Their tour included stops in Fargo, Warroad, Crookston, Grand Forks, Fergus Falls and other locations. But the highlight came when Berrios realized that the vehicle he was in was about to drive onto a frozen North Long Lake near Brainerd.
“When we drove onto the lake, I was like, ‘What!’ ” Berrios said.
The whole humans-on-ice concept had to be explained to the native Puerto Rican. Eventually, Berrios got out of the vehicle, stood on the ice and took pictures with Murphy, a Floridian who also was on a frozen lake for the first time.
“When they dug the hole and it was 19 inches, I was like great,” Berrios said.
It’s more important for Berrios to be comfortable on dirt, like the dirt on the pitcher’s mound. After going 3-7 with an 8.02 ERA in his debut major league season last year, he has a long way to go to make that happen. But he wants to prove this year that he deserved the designation as the top starting pitching prospect in the organization after going 46-25 with a 2.89 ERA as a minor leaguer.
“I expect a lot,” Berrios said. “I prepared myself to do a lot of things. The first one is to make the team out of spring training and then help the team do better than last year. The first goal for myself is to help the team do better.”
Berrios debuted on April 27 against Cleveland, giving up five runs over four innings. He had a 10.20 ERA through four starts. In 14 starts, he pitched at least six innings only once.
His final start of the season, Oct. 2 at Chicago, provided some encouragement, as he held the White Sox to one run over five innings. He still walked three batters in that game.
Berrios had never been hit like that before, so it tested his confidence.
“You see what the big difference is between the major league and the minor leagues,” Berrios said. “So now I feel more comfortable and more confident with myself. I feel better. You have to stay mentally strong. Sometimes I feel rushed and it can be tough. But everyone knows I work hard every day. So I go out and do my stuff, the things I can control.”
He fell into a rut in which he would lose his release point and fail to throw strikes consistently. By the end of the season, television analyst and baseball Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven and Twins teammate Ervin Santana began to appear at Berrios’ bullpen sessions to offer advice.
Berrios would speed up his delivery and lose the strike zone. So they had him bring his hands behind his head as he begins his delivery to help him find the right rhythm and release the ball the same way.
“He gets quick over the [pitching] rubber sometimes,” Twins pitching coach Neil Allen said. “So we are making sure he stays tall, stays over the rubber and brings the ball out of the glove the same way. Everything has to travel the same way.”
With as many as 11 pitchers in camp with goals of making the starting rotation, Berrios will have to impress early before he leaves to join team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, which is held March 9-22. The Twins will be given data on his workouts while with the national team, and they are allowed to offer feedback after his outings. After the WBC, Berrios will have a little over a week to push for a rotation spot.
“We have a lot of good starters, but I’m going to go out there and do what I can do,” Berrios said. “I’ve prepared myself to do the best I can and make them decide.”