Jose Berrios entered the clubhouse at Hammond Stadium one morning during spring training carrying a shiny new mantel clock, his award for being named Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2015.
“It’s nice. I have two now,” said Berrios, who also won the award in 2014.
Across the clubhouse, outfielder Max Kepler packed away his clock for being the Minor League Player of the Year.
Speaking of timepieces, tick-tock, is it time for Berrios, Kepler or another prospect to get a shot to stick in the majors?
One year after Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Tyler Duffey and Eddie Rosario debuted, Berrios, ranked second among Twins prospects by ESPN, and Kepler (third) should lead another wave of young talent to Target Field.
“We’ve got a pretty good group coming along,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. “I think we saw this a couple of years ago. We had some pretty good players. Now you have Kepler on the verge and you’ve got [Jorge] Polanco on the verge, and you’ve got a number of others who are pretty close.
“You can deduce that there is a wave coming, but they have a lot to prove.”
Berrios’ skills — he throws a mid-90s fastball with an average to above-average changeup and curve — were on display during spring training. The Twins broke camp with their rotation set, but Berrios, 14-5 with a 2.87 ERA between Class AA Chattanooga and Class AAA Rochester last season, could be the first starter summoned if there’s an injury.
Kepler was the Southern League MVP last season, batting .322 with nine home runs, 71 RBI and a .416 on-base percentage. Working with Chattanooga manager Doug Mientkiewicz and hitting coach Chad Allen, Kepler became more aggressive at the plate and pulled pitches better. He can play all three outfield positions — he’s better in the corners — and some first base.
“He was outstanding last year,” said Brad Steil, the Twins director of minor league operations. “Just how he matured at the plate.”
Berrios and Kepler aren’t alone in the waiting room.
Twins fans have seen Polanco in cameo appearances over the past two seasons, including a call-up from Class A Fort Myers in 2014. He projects as a good offensive player who can play short but might be better suited at second base. ESPN has him ranked as the sixth-best prospect in the organization.
Polanco is blocked by Eduardo Escobar at short, Brian Dozier at second and Trevor Plouffe at third. So he will simmer at Rochester, ready to fill in if needed.
“For him to get at-bats,” Ryan said, “we’re going to have to branch him out.”
The Twins have focused on adding power relief arms in recent drafts, and four of them — righthanders Nick Burdi, Jake Reed and J.T. Chargois and lefthander Mason Melotakis — could be called up by the end of the season.
Burdi stood out during spring training, throwing several pitches at 99 miles per hour while adding a wipeout slider and improving a split-fingered changeup. Reed and Chargois throw in the mid-90s. Melotakis is healthy following Tommy John surgery and has touched 97 mph in the past. These prospects are why the Twins didn’t feel pressed to spend on free-agent bullpen help.
A wild card is former starter Alex Meyer, who throws in the upper 90s but is battling control problems.
“There are things to work with there,” Ryan said of the group.
There are starting prospects, too, such as Taylor Rogers, who was 11-12 with a 3.98 ERA at Rochester last season, and Pat Dean (12-11, 2.82). Both are finesse lefthanders who could be called up in a pinch. Keep in mind the Twins might have as many as eight starters in front of these two.
Adam Brett Walker
Adam Brett Walker looms as a power option if the Twins need an outfielder or designated hitter. Walker led Class AA in home runs (31), RBI (106) and extra-base hits (65) while at Chattanooga. But he hit just .236 and struck out a minor league-high 195 times, and the Twins are reworking his throwing mechanics. Some in the organization believe he has more power than Sano, which is hard to imagine.
Overall, it’s a deep group, deeper than in recent years. And many of them could be in a Twins uniform by the end of the season.
“We’ve got some good players coming along here,” Ryan said. “All you have to do is read these lists that all of you pay attention to, to some extent. [But] we know our guys a little better than the national guys.”