Monthly Archives: December 2020

Jose Berrios Jersey

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Jose Berrios has been in the majors for four full years now, as well as a 58-inning audition in 2016. Yet, he has not yet taken the “leap” into the level of pitchers reserved for the true aces of the game that many Twins fans have been waiting for. Should we expect more from Jose Berrios? Or should we resign ourselves to a sad (but still solid) reality of “he is what he is”?

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The good news: Jose Berrios is still only 26 (he’ll be turning 27 in May). He hasn’t even entered the real “prime” years of his career, and it seems like every year I look up his age and am surprised at how young he is. You can do much worse than having 26-year-old Jose Berrios as your #2 starter.

The bad: Berrios’ stats trended in the wrong direction last year, leading to his worst ERA since his rookie debut. However, I’ll be the first one to tell you that you can throw out 2020’s player stats like the week-old leftovers in the back of your fridge. Consider this: Berrios essentially had one “meh” month and one very good month in 2020, yet I’ll bet most of us only remember him as having a mediocre season. He pitched to the tune of a 4.75 ERA with five home runs allowed in 36.0 innings from the season’s late-July start through August, and then flipped the switch, posting a 3.00 ERA with three dingers given up in 27.0 September/October innings.

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Just from watching Berrios for the last few years, he has two major issues: he’s often got a “tale of two seasons” thing going on, pitching hot in one half of the year and cold in the other, and he struggles to put hitters away when he’s got two strikes on them, which leads to high pitch counts.

Jose Berrios
2020 Stats (12 games): 4.00 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 109 ERA+, 4.06 FIP, 0.7 WAR

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Current Contract (2nd-Year Arbitration Eligible, Free Agent: 2023)
In his second year of arbitration, Berrios is slated to make somewhere between $5-7.5 million. Last season, the Twins and Berrios couldn’t agree on a salary, so they had to go through an arbitration hearing. He had requested a salary of $4.4 million and the Twins offered $4.025 million. These hearings can be tough for the player and the team as they argue over a player’s value compared to similar players in previous seasons. It will be interesting to see if the two sides go through the hearing process again this year.

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Pros of Extending Now
Minnesota has struggled to develop starting pitching in the organization for many years and Berrios is one of the lone players to prove he can be an effective starter at the big-league level. He’s already been a two-time All Star and the closer he gets to free agency, the more expensive an extension would cost. An extension this winter would allow Berrios and his family to be set-up for life and it would give the Twins some certainty with their costs moving forward. It isn’t going to be cheap to sign him, so sooner rather than later might be the key.

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Cons of Extending Now
The Twins have previously approached Berrios with potential contract extensions, but he seems satisfied to go year-to-year through the arbitration process and betting on himself improving each season. “Every player wants to sign a multiyear deal, but we know it’s a business,” Berrios told the Star Tribune in spring training 2019. “I have to manage my business, too. … We’re waiting for the best for both sides. If it doesn’t happen this year, maybe next year.” Another year has passed, and an extension has yet to be signed.

Possible Extension
It’s likely for Berrios to make around $7 million in 2021 and then see a raise to around $10 million for 2022 before heading to free agency. An extension is going to be a little trickier since he has already entered the arbitration process and he is closer to free agency. Berrios isn’t going to take a hometown discount to stay with the Twins so that likely means he will be looking at a contract north of $100 million. According to Baseball Reference, one of the most similar pitchers to him through age 26 is Trevor Bauer and he is headed for a massive payday this winter.

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How much would you give Berrios in an extension? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

I would expect Berrios to unlock some consistency with his age, as he continues to learn more about how to treat his body during the season. However, the other issue is more difficult to solve, and it’s the one that could send him to the next level.

Berrios already has been posting fairly good strikeout numbers. In the past three years, he has had 9.7, 8.8, and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Being above 9.0 is considered quite good for starters, even these days, when strikeouts have skyrocketed. Berrios is often able to get ahead in the count- the problem is what happens after he does. I don’t know where to find the numbers to back it up, but I know from watching him that he must give up more foul balls on 2-strike pitches than just about anyone. Hitters are able to run up his pitch count or bring the count even way too often on the young pitcher, which limits his ability to go deep into games, and sometimes hurts his team.

Jose Berrios needs to develop a knockout pitch. His fastball is slightly above-average, but it’s not really a swing-and-miss pitch. He has a terrific curveball, but hitters know when it’s coming and where it’s going, for the most part. His changeup usage has increased every year, but hasn’t developed into a real weapon yet. If he could either find a way to make his changeup more effective, or a mix up the location and usage of his curveball more, he could really become a more dangerous pitcher. The other way he could accomplish this is by developing a harder breaking ball to complement his big slow curve.

All in all, I think that Berrios has a path to reach a higher level of pitching. If he can become more consistent throughout the entire season, that’ll be one thing. If he can learn to put hitters away quickly after getting ahead in the count, that’s another. As is, Berrios is a very good #2 starter, but if he can accomplish these things, he can unlock true #1 status. And I, for one, will be disappointed if he doesn’t.

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Francisco Lindor is surely going to be traded this offseason, but could the Minnesota Twins actually get him from a chief division rival?

One of the worst kept secrets this MLB offseason is the Cleveland Indians ultimately trading shortstop Francisco Lindor as he heads into the final year of his contract. Owner Paul Dolan prepared fans for inevitability Lindor would be gone, and the list of teams who can make a case for a trade pursuit is long (realistic or not).

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But in his latest piece, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required) offered an interesting suitor for Lindor (or Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, who is also headed for free agency after next season).

The Minnesota Twins.

Could the Twins really make a deal for Francisco Lindor?
At first glance, the Twins don’t have a hole at shortstop. Jorge Polanco is signed through 2023, and he had an All-Star season in 2019 (.295, 40 doubles, 22 HR, 79 RBI). A right ankle issue has required surgery in back-to-back offseasons, and there’s a path to him shifting into a utility role or making a pure position switch if the Twins entertained a move for a shortstop.

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Rosenthal offered a way the Twins could make a good deal for Lindor, with specific mention of Luis Arraez.

“The likelihood of all that occurring is not terribly high, but the idea is not without merit. Start with Arraez, 23, who could bring a significant return. His career OPS is .819 in 487 plate appearances. He had above-average defensive metrics last season, albeit in a small sample. And he is under club control or five more seasons.”

Arraez offers some position utility — second base, shortstop and outfield. With a .331 batting average, a .429 slugging percentage, 40 strikeouts and 44 walks over the start of his time in the big leagues, he’s a free-swinging, bat-to-ball guy at the plate.

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As Rosenthal also laid out, trading Arraez would open up the idea of a move to second base for Polanco.

Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey had moved out of the Indians’ scouting department by the time Lindor was drafted eighth overall in 2011. But he worked in the organization through the 2016 season, and that familiarity surely lingers.

The Indians seem sure to prioritize getting cost-controlled major league talent in a deal for Lindor. The Twins are also sure to draw a line at their top prospects in most any trade (Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff), but an offer pairing Arraez (or Polanco?) with Trevor Larnach or Jordan Balazovic (or both) might get Cleveland’s attention.

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MINNEAPOLIS — As the White Sox get a head start on adding to their club this offseason with the acquisitions of Lance Lynn and Adam Eaton, the Twins also have holes of their own to patch among their starting rotation, bullpen depth and utility options.

That to-do list grew a bit longer when the club non-tendered Eddie Rosario and Matt Wisler at last week’s deadline, and considering that Rosario issued a farewell statement to Twins Territory via social media on Monday, it appears likely that left field will also be a question as the club plans for 2021. That’s not something that the Twins have had to address since ’15, when Rosario debuted in the Majors before making the next five Opening Day starts.

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On one hand, two of the Twins’ top three prospects — Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach — are corner outfielders among the club’s already-crowded outfield depth, and Kirilloff at minimum should play a factor in 2021 after the Twins trusted him enough to start him in an elimination playoff game against the Astros in September. On the other hand, the Twins are still firmly in win-now mode (with the White Sox bringing the heat) and might be reluctant to rely exclusively on unproven prospects at a position traditionally counted on for offense.

• Offseason checklist: Twins’ needs and moves

How do the Twins prepare for life after Rosario? Let’s take a look at some of the options.

Top Prospects: Larnach, MIN
Apr 2, 2020 · 0:40
Top Prospects: Larnach, MIN
Seek external help
This is an appealing option for a few reasons. There’s no shortage of productive corner-outfield types on the free-agent market, and proven outfield depth is always an important consideration for the Twins considering Byron Buxton’s extensive injury history.

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The Twins won’t be swimming in the deep end for the likes of Michael Brantley or George Springer, but a right-handed bat on a short-term deal — perhaps an Adam Duvall or a Hunter Renfroe — could give the Twins some insurance in case of underperformance from prospects or injury to a starter. In fact, if the Twins don’t make an addition and Buxton or Max Kepler goes down to injury, the club might have to rely on two inexperienced outfield starters (or Jake Cave) amid a division chase.

It is worth noting, though, that the Twins’ prospect depth in the outfield does make other areas a more pressing need. The club could likely use a starting pitcher to bridge the gap to top prospects Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran, and the bullpen is in significant need of help after the losses of Trevor May, Wisler, Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard to free agency. Even more significantly, the club is sorely in need of infield depth following the departures of Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza.

With that in mind, it might make more sense for the Twins to address their more pressing pitching needs and find a utility player that can fill needs in both the infield and outfield — like Kiké Hernández — who could primarily serve as infield depth due to injury concerns with Josh Donaldson, Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez but also slide in as a capable corner outfielder if needed (much like Gonzalez did in his two seasons with the Twins).

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As we did last offseason, Twinkie Town writers are grading player who appeared in a game for the 2020 Minnesota Twins. (Last year’s grades can be found here, this year’s here.) Players will be graded individually on an A-F scale based on their hitting, fielding, and whatever else the author wants to consider. Today, we take a look at another young reliever.

Perhaps it took injury and roster expansion for Jorge Alcala to receive an opportunity in a major league bullpen, but his 2020 showed he deserves to stay there.

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After a cup of coffee in 2019 as a September call-up, Alcala began the following season at the St. Paul alternate training site. He would only linger there for a week, as an injury to Zack Littell opened a spot in the relief corps.

For the rest of the regular season, the fireballing righty was a bullpen mainstay.

Though used primarily in lower-leverage situations in his first “full” season, Alcala’s numbers were still well above average. In 16 appearances, Alcala put forth a 2.63 ERA, 3.57 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP while striking out 27 batters at a 28.7 percent clip. Batters hit .244 off Alcala’s pitching, aided by a .321 BABIP over thirty percentage points higher than the team average.

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All three of Alcala’s primary pitches – his fastball, slider, and changeup – were thrown well above the league mean in terms of velocity, Alcala touching triple digits with one September 2 heater. He also ranked in the solidly good range in terms of many of Baseball Savant’s percentiles, the only exception being his average 8.5 percent walk rate.

Despite his strong season, Alcala was surprisingly left off the roster for the Wild Card round. Whether adding him to the roster would have made a difference can be argued, but given his low-leverage relief role in 2020, any change would likely have been minimal this year.

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Although his season came to an end without a chance to demonstrate his prowess in the playoffs, Alcala’s 2020 was a clear success. Writing about him moving forward, I only have one question, the same I had about promising then-rookie Luis Arraez last year: do you put the diacritical mark over the last “a” in his surname or not? I have seen it written with and without, and am not sure which is correct.

Either way, high marks for Jorge. Here’s to higher marks in 2021.
After a tough stretch for most of the decade, the Twins proved 2019 wasn’t a fluke and they are ready to be competitive again in the American League Central.

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The youth movement is alive and well in Minnesota with lineups full of homegrown talent who debuted in the past five years. Byron Buxton and José Berríos have settled in while Ryan Jeffers and Jorge Alcala stepped up this year. And even more top prospects should be ready next year.

“We have a lot of upper-level talent, we have a wave of guys that are right on the cusp of hopefully making an impact at the Major League level,” said Alex Hassan, the club’s director of player development. “We’re excited to see those guys hopefully take a step forward in 2021 and really be knocking on the door and being available whenever the need arises that they’re ready to step in and contribute and help us win meaningful games.”

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System strengths: As Hassan pointed out, the Twins boast a lot of talent on the cusp of the Majors. Of their top six prospects, five reached Double-A or higher in 2019. And the sixth, Jordan Balazovic is 22 with four Minor League seasons under his belt. Catcher Ryan Jeffers spent most of 2020 in The Show while Alex Kirilloff made his big league debut in the postseason. After a breakout 2018 and an injury-riddled 2019, baseball’s No. 27 overall prospect proved at the alternate training site the former was better representative of his game.

“Really great at-bats, controlled the strike zone, incredible barrel control and played solid defense,” Hassan said. “He’s one of our most calm and collected players that we have, so we felt like if there’s anybody who’s gonna be able to handle making their debut of the playoffs, it’s gonna be Alex.”

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Shortstop Royce Lewis continues to turn heads and create questions for Jorge Polanco’s future in the Twins’ infield. After winning MVP honors in the 2019 Arizona Fall League, the No. 7 overall prospect did what he could this summer to keep that momentum rolling while in St. Paul, particularly by hitting the ball to all fields and improving his defense.

“Both [Lewis and Kirilloff] did an outstanding job and really put themselves in a position that hopefully they’re ready to contribute at the Major League level in the not-too-distant future,” Hassan said.

Areas for growth: The Twins’ Top 30 prospects are pretty well-rounded, except in one way: left-handed pitchers. With the graduations of Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe, Minnesota doesn’t have any top southpaw prospects. Hassan said he and his staff are not concerned, calling it “cyclical” after the graduations.

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“No one who’s in that upper echelon of prospects that we’re talking about right now,” he said of lefties on his radar. “In terms of like our top, top-tier talent, I mean, certainly it’s right-hand dominant.”

Some southpaws who are trying to break through are Tyler Watson, who showed promise in the second half of the 2019 season in the Class A Advanced Florida State League and teammate Bryan Sammons, who did well for Fort Myers before struggling at Double-A Pensacola.

What changed in 2020: The biggest trade of the year for the Twins came in February when they sent then-No. 83 overall prospect Brusdar Graterol, Minor Leaguer Luke Raley and a Draft pick to the Dodgers for ace Kenta Maeda and catcher Jair Camargo. The trade ended up working out for both sides as Minnesota picked up a Cy Young finalist and Los Angeles got a reliable arm for their World Series-winning bullpen.

At the Draft, the Twins nabbed college first baseman Aaron Sabato, college outfielder Alerick Soularie, high-school hurler Marco Raya (yes, right-handed) and high-school outfielder Kala’i Rosario. After being selected 27th overall out of UNC, Sabato jumped into the rankings as the club’s No. 8 prospect. While power is the 21-year-old’s best tool, Hassan also loves his makeup.

“He’s a strong kid. He’s got a really good swing and a really good feel for what he’s doing at the plate and then he has competitive at-bats and it has really good power,” Hassan said. “So a lot of the characteristics that we saw in the Draft, he showed up in instructional league and we saw a lot of those strengths.”

#283: Twins’ Aaron Sabato
Nov 6, 2020 · 59:16
#283: Twins’ Aaron Sabato
Alternate site standout: While Lewis and Kirilloff grabbed the most headlines, they were not the only ones who really stood out for Hassan at St. Paul. Right-hander Josh Winder, a 2018 Draft pick out of Virginia Military Institute, impressed with the work he put in both in the weight room and on the mound. Hassan noted Winder “really took a meaningful step forward.”

Matt Canterino came into the alternate site later in the summer with just 25 Minor League innings under his belt, but the 2019 second-round pick performed above his experience.

“He worked his butt off during the shutdown as well,” Hassan said. “Matt has really good stuff. He has four really good pitches and has stuff similar to Jordan [Balazovic]. Really ticked up and we were thrilled with what we saw from him.”

From the dish, Hassan liked the strides made by Twins No. 7 prospect Keoni Cavaco. At just 19, the shortstop was able to develop off-field routines that translated into games.

“He did a really good job on offense, controlled the strike zone a little bit better, put some more balls in play and flashed the tools that that made him a first-round pick in 2019,” Hassan said.

Impact rookies: No rookie (or catcher for that matter) got more playing time in the Twins’ lineup this summer than Jeffers. The 23-year-old backstop is best known for his defense, but he also has some pop. In 26 games, Jeffers batted .273/.355/.436 with three homers and seven RBIs. He allowed one passed ball while his 0.5 fWAR ranked ninth among all Twins.

“He’s always had an ability to be a really good receiver for us. He’s a good game-caller, he managed the staff really well and I think those things all showed up,” Hassan said. “And he’s been a really good hitter throughout his Minor League career and had good at-bats at the Major League level.”

Out of the bullpen, Alcala’s 2.63 ERA placed fourth among Twins pitchers with more than three innings pitched. The 25-year-old right-hander got a taste in 2019, but really carved a path for himself this year, notching 27 strikeouts and only eight walks in 24 innings spanning 16 appearances.

Next big thing: Balazovic was drafted in the fifth round in 2016, but he didn’t start turning heads until two years later. He ended 2018 as the club’s No. 29 prospect. After a breakout 2019, he became the organization’s No. 4 prospect. With a plus-plus fastball and a plus-slider, Balazovic turned himself into the Twins’ top Minor League arm.

Balazovic didn’t get to the alternate training site until late summer, but because of the work he put in at home, he impressed in his limited time at St. Paul and in the instructional league.

“His stuff looked great, he really hadn’t lost much at all on his stuff. If anything, probably picked up a tick across the board,” Hassan said. “We’re excited about him. He was added to the Major League roster, the 40-man roster this offseason, so he’ll be a big league camp this year obviously, and he’ll be competing just like everybody else. So we don’t think he’s too far away.”