Once a week this season, we're going to break down the prospects who have moved the needle on their prospect stock, mostly highlighting players on the rise, but also pointing out a few who are struggling against expectations. Note: All stats are through games played on Monday.
Twins RHP Jose Berrios, Double-A New Britain:
This time last year, the 2012 first-rounder (32nd overall) hit a wall in the Class A Midwest League, something the Twins attribute to his stint at the World Baseball Classic that spring. As the season wound down, Minnesota gave Berrios extra days off and limited his innings so as not to press the teenager too hard.
As we hit the home stretch a year later, it's a very different story for Berrios. The 20-year-old seems to be getting stronger as the calendar edges closer to autumn. In his most recent start, the right-hander lit up Reading's juiced radar gun at 101 mph. That gun was running a little hot, but a team official did confirm Sunday that Berrios' fastest pitch was a legitimate 98 mph, which is still big-time smoke.
The outing was his second at Double-A after spending the first half of the year dominating in the Class A Advanced Florida State League, where, despite Berrios' good numbers, he was inconsistent. Miracle pitching coach Gary Lucas summed up his early struggles:
"He looks very much 19 some nights," Lucas said. "Some nights he looks like he could pitch in the big leagues. ... I think that's kind of been his thing so far this year."
Berrios has been flashing Major League stuff since he was drafted. What he lacked -- like many teenage hurlers -- was the pitchability to let that arsenal shine. Lucas worked with Berrios to corral his intensely competitive nature, asking the righty to add and subtract from his fastball and focus more on location than pure velocity.
Right around the time Lucas provided those quotes (May 7), it looks like Berrios found his stride. After walking 3.3 batters per nine innings in his first six starts, he's walked just 1.75 per nine in 12 starts since. He also has a 1.86 ERA and 10.6 strikeouts per nine in that span.
Berrios was finally promoted to Double-A earlier this month, and Saturday's gem was his second start with the Rock Cats. His appearance in the Eastern League means he's also pitching in front of MiLB.TV cameras, so we can show you a bit of what he's capable of doing.
Let's start with the fastball. Throughout the game, the Reading announcer read off velocities ranging from 97 to 101 mph on the stadium gun, which we know was hot -- realistically, he was likely in the 94-to-98 mph range.
Here's Berrios' final strikeout from Saturday:
Next up, the changeup. Berrios didn't throw too many in Friday's outing from what I can tell, and of the ones he did throw, he missed the zone with quite a few.
But he did throw at least one monstrous change on the second pitch of the at-bat below (skip to about the 55-second mark for the pitch in question):
Lastly, the breaking ball. The pitch looks like it has some big depth and movement, and Berrios was confident in chucking it. In the at-bat below, Berrios is facing Philadelphia's Wil Nieves -- a big league hitter on a rehab assignment -- in the first inning. Berrios started Nieves with three straight breaking balls, getting swings and misses on the second and third benders. He then came back with a heater on the outside corner for a strikeout.
Rangers UTIL Ryan Rua, Triple-A Round Rock:
The 24-year-old was a nobody on the prospect scene heading into 2013. A 17th-round pick in the 2011 Draft out of Lake Erie College in Ohio, Rua showed offensive ability with Class A Short Season Spokane in 2012 but broke out with Class A Hickory in '13. In 104 games, Rua clubbed 29 homers, then added three more in 23 games with Double-A Frisco to close out the season.
Hickory is a hitter-friendly park, so Rua still had plenty to prove this season to establish legitimate prospect status, and the Rangers farmhand has done just that, hitting .295/.365/.482 between Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock. Rua has played third, second and left field as a Minor Leaguer and looks like he'll at least get a chance to be a useful utility type in the Majors, if not more.
Yankees C Luis Torrens, Class A Short Season Staten Island:
Torrens reportedly pulled in $1.3 million as a July 2012 signee out of Venezuela, and the 18-year-old has delivered positive early returns in his first look outside of the complex level. Torrens has a rocket right arm and a promising skill set behind the plate.
Offensively, Torrens doesn't boast the raw power of other recent New York catching prospects like Jesus Montero or Gary Sanchez, but he has a more well-rounded approach. Torrens is off to a torrid start with Staten Island, hitting .389/.429/.611 in 18 games with one homer and 11 extra-base hits.
Rays SS Hak-Ju Lee, Triple-A Durham:
Lee faced a tough task in 2014. The 23-year-old missed just about all of the 2013 season after tearing ligaments in his left knee. A slow start wouldn't have been surprising, but Lee is still struggling to find his offensive stride past the midway point of the season.
The South Korean is hitting .205/.276/.265 through 65 games. Offense wasn't supposed to be a major strength for Lee, and as a slick defensive shortstop, the threshold for success isn't too high. Flirting with the Mendoza Line in late July, though, is not the rebound Lee and the Rays were looking for.