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Is Jose Berrios the key to saving the Twins' pitching staff?

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There's a strong likelihood that the Twins' Opening Day starting pitcher will be one of three guys: Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes or Kyle Gibson.

But where will top pitching prospect Jose Berrios fall in the rotation? Will he even make the club out of Spring Training? Whatever the case, he should be the primary focus of the pitching staff as the Twins get set for regular season baseball.

Still just 20-years-old, Berrios has rocketed through the minor leagues and dominated at every level – and he's striking hitters out.

The 6-foot, 185-pound right-hander struck out 175 hitters over 166 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He's averaging 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings through four years in the minors, meaning he's trending towards becoming the first true strikeout starter the Twins have had since Johan Santana.

https://twitter.com/LaVelleNeal/status/701058881607376896

The Twins have finished dead last in team strikeouts five consecutive seasons, according to FanGraphs.

Twins leading strikeout pitchers since the Santana era.

  • 2015: Kyle Gibson – 145 strikeouts
  • 2014: Phil Hughes – 186 strikeouts
  • 2013: Kevin Correia/Mike Pelfrey – 101 strikeouts
  • 2012: Francisco Liriano – 109 strikeouts
  • 2011: Scott Baker – 123 strikeouts
  • 2010: Francisco Liriano – 201 strikeouts
  • 2009: Scott Baker – 162 strikeouts
  • 2008: Scott Baker – 141 strikeouts
  • 2007: Johan Santana – 235 strikeouts
  • 2006: Johan Santana – 245 strikeouts
  • 2005: Johan Santana – 238 strikeouts
  • 2004: Johan Santana – 265 strikeouts

By no means is anyone comparing Berrios' ability to strike hitters out to Santana, who was the American League's top strikeout pitcher 2004-06; but Berrios does have the ability to miss bats, a skill so few Twins starters have had since Santana left.

He's also the best control pitching prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com.

Twins Daily thinks his ceiling is as a frontline starter, so, again, the question is when will his chance come?

Will Berrios make the team?

That's the million dollar question. Puckett's Pond notes that starting Berrios at Triple-A would give the Twins an extra year of control in the contract wars, but if he's ready, will the Twins hold him back?

Berrios also has to prove that he's ready to take the ball over three other potential starters: Tommy Milone, Ricky Nolasco and Trevor May.

The Star Tribune says Berrios will "likely" start the season at Triple-A Rochester.

Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson and Tyler Duffey are considered locks to make the rotation. All of them are right-handed, thus raising the appeal of using a lefty like Milone to round out the starting five.

Noteworthy

Position players report on Friday, but most are already there. The Star Tribune says the only guys not yet in Florida are: Ryan Sweeney, Joe Mauer, Kennys Vargas, Eduardo Nunez, James Beresford, Carlos Quentin, Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier.

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