This is not the way it was supposed to go for the Minnesota Twins. This was going to be the year their next generation of stars laid the foundation for the next Twins' playoff team: Miguel Sano would build upon his impressive rookie season, Byron Buxton would flash his tools in his first extended stay in the majors, and Jose Berrios would get the call and show signs of developing into the team's best starter since Johan Santana was traded to the Mets.
Instead, the team lost its first nine games, played better for a spell, and then lost 12 of 13. That's two terrible stretches of baseball already, and we're still in mid-May. Berrios made his fourth start on Monday since his recall from Triple-A and managed to record only two outs, as he gave up a leadoff home run to Ian Kinsler and then walked four batters. Eventually all seven of the baserunners he allowed came around as the Tigers scored eight runs.
Berrios' numbers through four starts indicate a guy who might have to head back to Triple-A: 15 innings pitched, 20 hits allowed, 5 home runs, 12 walks and a 10.20 ERA. Berrios' 20 strikeouts indicates the quality of his stuff, but everything else indicates a lack of command. Of 280 pitchers with at least 15 innings, Berrios ranks 265th in percentages of pitches within the strike zone. This isn't always a bad thing. For example, Dallas Keuchel made his living last season getting batters to chase pitches just off the corners. Guys such as Cole Hamels and Luke Gregerson rank near the bottom in this category, as hitters chase Hamels' changeup and Gregerson's slider.
Berrios isn't that kind of sinker/slider guy, though. He throws a fastball, curveball and changeup and needs to command his fastball to set up the other pitches. That hasn't happened, as he has thrown too many up in the zone and too many well off the plate:
Jose Berrios command issues: 37 percent of his fastballs labeled "non-competitive" (over 18 inches from center): pic.twitter.com/tFlGQhu9if— David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield) May 17, 2016
It has been a discouraging start, but keep in mind that Berrios doesn't turn 22 until later this month. His minor league walk rates were fine, so this could simply be a case of a kid trying too hard and overthrowing at the onset of his career. Still, a return to Triple-A isn't a bad idea.
If that happens, he would join Buxton, who was sent down after hitting .156 in 49 plate appearances with the Twins. Buxton can play center field with the best of them, but I have serious concerns about his ability to hit major league pitching. In his limited time in the majors (187 plate appearances over two seasons) he has shown zero aptitude to adjust, with the resoundingly awful totals of 68 strikeouts and just eight walks to go with a .195 average. He's hit better at Rochester -- .301/.356/.494 -- although the strikeout rate (23 percent) remains high for a player who relies more on speed than elite power.
The Twins need Buxton to hit, because they certainly need him in center field. They ranked 28th in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved entering Monday, not exactly a surprise since their outfield has included converted shortstop Danny Santana in center, converted third baseman Sano in right, and the slow-moving Oswaldo Arcia in left. Twins pitchers should sue for lack of support.
As for Sano, he did hit his sixth home run on Monday, but his strikeout rate remains high at 34.4 percent. With 54 K's in 37 games, he's on pace for 236 strikeouts, which would break Mark Reynolds' single-season record of 223. Reynolds did hit 44 home runs that year, but the high K rates eventually cratered his batting averages and turned him into a part-time player. Sano should be better than that, but Twins fans were dreaming of something bigger than Mark Reynolds comparisons.
To be fair, don't blame the Twins' poor start on just these three kids. As predicted, guys such as Kurt Suzuki, Eddie Rosario and Santana have been on-base ciphers. Much of the rotation has struggled. Paul Molitor believes playing Eduardo Nunez at shortstop is a good idea.
This is a team that didn't project to be as good as last year's surprising 83-win team. The struggles of Berrios, Buxton and Sano have simply reaffirmed that Twins are still in the building process.