CINCINNATI – The next time Jose Berrios pitches in a major league stadium, he would like for it to be with the Twins.
“Yes,” he said with a big grin. “And hopefully soon.”
He has done the Futures Game thing now, twice. Sunday, he started and pitched a scoreless first inning for the World Team in a 10-1 loss to the U.S. Team at Great American Ball Park. It was just like last year, when he took the mound in front of Twins fans at Target Field and produced a scoreless inning.
“It is a big blessing for me,” said Berrios, whose wife, Jannieliz, and daughter, Valentina, were in attendance Sunday. “I have to give thanks to God for giving me the opportunity again. I just do my work and have fun every time I’m out there.”
A lot has gone on with Berrios, 21, between the appearances. He has risen to No. 3 on Baseball America’s ranking of the top 10 Twins prospects. He dominated at Class AA Chattanooga, going 8-3 with a 3.55 ERA in 17 starts, striking out 92 and walking 24 in 90⅔ innings.
That led to a promotion to Class AAA Rochester, where he has given up nine runs in 10⅔ innings over his first two starts. He said he has been overthinking things as he adjusts to a level sprinkled with players who have major league experience.
“He has a combination of competitiveness, confidence, and maturity that has allowed him to improve quicker than most,” said Brad Steil, the Twins director of minor league operations. “He’s very coachable and driven to improve his game. Of course, having the kind of stuff he has helps, too.”
Sunday, Berrios faced second baseman Tony Kemp, shortstop J.P. Crawford and catcher Kyle Schwarber, who was the designated hitter for the Cubs when they visited Target Field last month.
Berrios wasn’t his sharpest, walking Kemp on five pitches to open the inning. Kemp must have been excited to be on first, as he began bouncing off the bag as he took a lead. Berrios whirled and threw to first while Kemp was in mid-bounce and picked him off with room to spare.
“So I was talking to the first base coach. He told me he was pretty slow to the plate,” Kemp said. “I just got antsy. If he had gone home I would have had the bag easy. He picked over and he had quick feet, so you got to tip your cap to him.”
Berrios fields his position well and knows it’s important to control the running game.
“Overall, he’s a really good athlete,” Steil said, “and that shows in his fielding and overall defense. He’s one of the best fielding pitchers in our organization. He does a pretty good job holding runners and has only allowed one stolen base this year.”
With Kemp bounced off the field, Berrios jammed Crawford and induced him to pop out in foul territory. Schwarber, who later took game MVP honors after hitting a two-run triple, grounded to first to end Berrios’ only inning.
Berrios’ fastball sat at 92-94 miles per hour on the stadium radar gun. He also mixed in a changeup and curve. He fell behind all three batters he faced, but it didn’t burn him.
If he adjusts to hitters at Rochester like he did at Chattanooga, he could be a candidate for a late season call-up. But the Twins rotation is set for now, with starter Trevor May recently moved to the bullpen.
“He’s still very young, so we’re still working on all phases of the game,” Steil said. “Probably the biggest things he needs to accomplish at Triple-A are being more consistent with his fastball command and pitching down at the knees more, and developing the secondary pitches and using them behind in the count more often.”