Final step for Berrios is refining command

Twins' top mound prospect expected to debut this season

Final step for Berrios is refining command

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- While the Twins believe their rotation is the best it's been in recent years, it's still not a group that misses many bats.

Minnesota's rotation has had the fewest strikeouts in the Majors in each of the last five years, but that trend could change this season with the help of one key addition -- top pitching prospect Jose Berrios. Berrios, ranked as the club's No. 2 prospect and No. 19 overall by MLBPipeline.com, led the Minor Leagues with 175 strikeouts in a career-high 166 1/3 innings last season.

It was a breakout season for the 21-year-old, who went 14-5 with a 2.87 ERA between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester. But it wasn't enough to earn him a September callup, as the Twins wanted to monitor the 6-foot, 185-pounder's workload heading into this year.

The restrictions are now off, however, and while Berrios is starting the year at Rochester, he figures to give the Twins a boost in their rotation at some point this season.

"I wanted to be here last year and they didn't call me, but I'm ready this year," Berrios said. "I wanted to play in the Majors, but I respect the decision of [general manager] Terry Ryan and the staff. And now I'm just ready for the 2016 season."

Berrios, a Bayamon, Puerto Rico, native, was a first-round Draft pick in 2012, and he has excelled at every level in the Minors, posting a career 2.98 ERA and 464 strikeouts in 440 1/3 innings. There were worries that, given his smaller frame, he'd have trouble keeping the ball in the park because of a lack of plane on his fastball, but he's never given up more than 12 homers in any season.

Buxton, Berrios aim for playoffs

Berrios, though, isn't quite a finished project, as he struggled with his command a bit in spring and needs to work on locating his fastball better to set up his curveball and changeup.

"Probably location more than anything else, but it's not so much control because he does throw strikes for the most part," Ryan said. "Now it's just about commanding the zone a little bit. But there's not much that you're going to hear from my mouth that's not positive about last year. He had a very good solid year from basically start to finish."

Berriois' work ethic certainly isn't the issue, as he's active on Twitter and Instagram, posting all of his grueling offseason workouts. He trained six days a week this offseason, and said he enjoys being able to show what he's up to, such as workouts in which he runs on the beach with a parachute being deployed behind him.

"I put it on [social media] because I want people to see me and enjoy what I do in the offseason," Berrios said. "It's great. Everybody knows what I do."

He's also leaned on veteran right-hander Ervin Santana for advice, as Santana made his debut as a youngster, pitching with the Angels as a 22-year-old in 2005. Santana raves about the quality of Berrios' stuff, and believes he'd be able to get Major League hitters out now.

"He's got great command and I think he's ready," Santana said. "He has a lot of life on his fastball and has good offspeed. He can throw them for a strike, and that's what you're looking for at the big league level."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.