MINORS: The eyes have it—Berrios, Buxton and Sano

The Minnesota Twins have seen better days. Without a winning record since 2010, Twins fans have looked to the minor leagues to rejuvenate the franchise. In recent years, the farm system has produced players such as Trevor Plouffe, Danny Santana and Brian Dozier. Solid MLB ballplayers, but not cornerstones to lay a organizational foundation with.

Luckily for Twins fans, impact players are near. Three of their top prospects, Byron Buxton (#2 on the HQ100), Miguel Sano (#8 on the HQ100) and Jose Berrios (#27 on the HQ100), play for the Twins Double-A affiliate Chattanooga, and I got to see all several tims in the past month. Along with Triple-A hurler Alex Meyer (#30 on the HQ100), the three form solid nucleus for Minnesota's future. Is the top prospect hype worthy of the actual product? Let's take a look.

 

Jose Berrios (RHP, MIN)
Twins #3 prospect
Dates Seen: 4/17/15 & 5/2/15

Jose Berrios doesn’t look like a prototypical starting pitcher. Listed at 6-0, 185 lbs, the Puerto Rican right hander is shorter than most top pitching prospects. Don’t be fooled by the lack of height; Berrios is a solidly-built pitcher. The 32nd pick of the 2012 draft has accelerated through the Twins farm system. After starting a game for the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate late last season, many thought he would report to Rochester to start 2015. However, the organization erred on the side of caution and assigned him to Double-A. From multiple looks, the Twins made the right call.

Not many pitchers possess the tools Berrios has at his disposal.  The 20-year-old has three potential plus pitches. He throws a 2-seam fastball and a 4-seam fastball. The 2-seam fastball is a workhorse. Featuring above-average armside run and inconsistent downward tilt, this 91-93 mph offering suffers from spotty command. Berrios hit his target consistently when it was away, but struggled commanding the inner half. White Sox prospect Courtney Hawkins (#6 prospect in the organization) made him pay for missing in, depositing a 93 mph 2-seamer over the left-center field wall. In another look, Marlins prospect Sharif Othman took a middle-in fastball and hit it in the right field seats (pitch 6 of the above video).

Berrios’ 4-seamer provided a different look. The 93-94 mph offering has average glove-side run. It's a natural fastball spin compared to a cutter. Lacking the life of his 2-seamer, Berrios can command the 4-seamer. Presently, his fastballs are average offerings (50 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale) due to command issues. Both fastballs project plus (60 grade). Fastball command holds back the effectiveness of his two off-speed pitches, the curveball and the change-up.

The Puerto Rican’s three-quarters arm slot aids the effectiveness of his curveball, which sits 79-81 mph. The pitch features a sweeping 11-5 break, empowering Berrios to use the pitch as weapon to hitters on either side of the plate. His curveball command is solid-average. On a handful of pitches, Berrios wrapped his wrist before bringing his arm forward (especially pitch 10 of the sequence). Though that created maximum break, it also tipped off hitters to what was coming. He also struggled staying on top of the curve, which caused the pitch to be slurvy. Currently, the curveball is a 45 pitch. While it excels in Double-A, it would only be merely serviceable in against major-league quality hitters. With seasoning, expect for this pitch to be another plus offering, and it would play up even further with an improved fastball.

Berrios best pitch is an exceptional change-up. It’s a fastball out of the pitcher’s hand. There isn’t any decrease in arm speed or a change in mechanics that would give hitters an indication that it’s coming. The change-up takes a remarkable 8 to 10 mph off his fastball; it’s an 81-83 mph pitch with exceptional armside run. Combined with kitchen sink-like drop and above average command, this pitch is devastating (see pitch 5 in the video). Berrios is able to work the pitch in on righties and away to lefties. As with the curve ball, improving his fastball command will dictate the changeup’s projection. There is plus-plus potential with this pitch and will likely be the best off-speed pitch scouted in the Southern League this season.

For a physically mature, small stature pitcher, Berrios still has plenty of ceiling left. A year of seasoning, split between Chattanooga and Rochester, would be best for development. Like most minor league pitchers, he needs to improve his fastball command. While his pacing is phenomenal, he rushes through his delivery sometimes, resulting in his arm lagging behind his lower half throwing the fastball.  If his command develops, and his two quality secondaries remain, expect Berrios to be a strikeout an inning, top of the rotation starter. His likely ETA is sometime late in the 2016 season.


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Byron Buxton (CF, MIN)
Twins #1 Prospect
Dates Seen: 4/17/15, 4/30/15 & 5/2/15

Showing no ill-effects from an injury ravaged season, Byron Buxton is the most exciting player in the minor leagues. The former 2012 1st round pick is wowing scouts with speed, athleticism and an exceptional hit tool. An early season look was a must. The 21-year-old’s time in Chattanooga is limited; Triple-A Rochester is calling his name.

“Five-tool player” gets thrown around a lot by prospect hype machines. In Buxton’s case, it's the real deal. The right handed hitter is an 80-grade (top of the scale) runner: 3.97 seconds home to first on an infield single; 7.66 seconds home to second on a stand-up double; 10.56 seconds home to third on a triple. He stole two bases with ease. Only Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton flashed a faster speed tool.

On defense, speed enables Buxton to cover enormous amounts of real estate in centerfield. On a ball hit at him and over his head, he accelerated, gliding to make an over the shoulder catch. His 70-grade arm causes third base coaches to be gun-shy sending runners home. Untested in game action, his arm is a perfect combination of strength and accuracy. In fielding practice, he fired low-arching missiles on point to third base. Inconsistent route running is the only issue holding back a perfect 80-grade Gold Glove projection as a fielder. He's a 70 for now.

In the three contests I saw, Buxton hit five line drives off the wall during game action. A scout’s gun caught one liner at 115 mph off the bat. Listed at 6-2, 195 pounds, Buxton possesses the quickest hands I've scouted. During a 2012 look in Elizabethton, he was raw, using unbelievable reflexes to create loud contact. Though he made contact, he had no idea where the ball was going and hadn’t learned how to generate lift. Three years later, he recognizes what pitchers are trying to do him. He takes advantage of mistakes and uses a firm back leg to generate power. There isn’t much loft off his bat but solid-average to plus power will develop as his bat matures. A projected 70-grade hit tool could play higher if he utilizes his exceptional bat control to work right field. Going the other way is a point of emphasis during batting practice. He’s a future .300 hitter; and there is a batting title or two in that bat. Buxton's likely ETA is April of 2016.

 

Miguel Sano (3B, MIN)
Twins #2 Prospect
Dates Seen: 4/17/15, 4/30/15 & 5/2/15

Miguel Sano is healthy. After missing 2014 due to surgery on his right elbow, the soon-to-be 22-year-old is seeing live pitching for the first time in a calendar year. Unlike his teammate Byron Buxton, Sano has struggled in 2015. Hitting under .200 the first month of the season, the right-handed hitting slugger looks out of sorts at the plate. Is this rust from missing the 2014 season or does it indicate a much larger issue?

Despite his 6-4, 260-lb frame, the Dominican born Sano is agile defensively. Blessed with quick reflexes and a strong 65-grade arm, Sano is a solid-average (50 grade) defender at third. His agility, reflexes and arm were put to the test on a screaming grounder hit by Marlins prospect Justin Bohn. Sano quickly dove to his left, gobbled up the grounder and threw a bullet to first for the out. While not an asset defensively, he’s a 50 runner. As the wear and tear on the large frame accumulates, expect Sano to lose a full grade in foot speed before reaching his prime.

At the plate, Sano's power is 80-grade. The masher uses his hips to produce force needed to drive the ball out of the ballpark. His hands are smooth through the zone and his bat generates natural backspin, adding carry to fly balls. The two home runs he hit in game action were crushed. The grade of 80-power translates to 35 plus home runs in the majors. This is Giancarlo Stanton-type power.

The rust from sitting out a season is evident with Sano’s hit tool. His reactions are slow and he gets under balls he’d normally drive. Quality of at bats have improved since mid-April. In the controlled setting of batting practice, there are clues to some deficiencies. Holding his hands out in front of his chest, Sano is unable to cover the inner third of the plate. A pitcher hitting his spots on the inner half can dominate the young slugger. Sano’s swing is also long in the barrel, sapping bat speed.

Presently, his hit tool grades out to a 35, but projecting a 50 (.265 BA; MLB average) isn’t a stretch. Due to his missed time and struggles early this season, his ETA is 2016.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.