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40 in 40: Prelander Berroa has camp abuzz

You...y-you like jazz?

Arkansas Travelers v Amarillo Sod Poodles Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

According to all known laws of aviation, there is no way a human should be able to throw a 96 mph, 20”+ IVB fastball. Its ligaments are too weak to get that small little ball moving with such intensity. The Pre(lander), of course, does anyway, because Pre(lander) doesn’t care what humans think is impossible.

a monstrosity. Prelander Berroa as Barry B Benson as brought to life by Jerry Seinfeld.
I didn’t have to do this, I could have just gone to bed, it’s so far past my bedtime
Me, unfortunately

Buzz, buzz. Spring Training is a time of constant buzzing - not quite of bees and flowers (blame that on the fact that Spring Training is almost entirely in winter), but of Best Shapes Of Their Lives and back-field videos that show you nothing but get you unreasonably excited for BASEBALL again.

One man has been dominating the buzz on the pitching side of things - Prelander Berroa has made quite the impact on camp so far.

Harry Ford had some kind words for Prelander here:

And here is flashing two nasty hard sliders

Last season, covering the Everett Aquasox, I had a front-row seat to watch The Pre(lander) Movie after his trade from San Francisco straight-up for infielder/utilityman Donovan Walton. He was an absolute box-office smash in his time in Everett before he left for Arkansas. He posted a strikeout rate of nearly 38%, highest in the Northwest League by a good stretch and one of the highest in all of Minor League baseball. He dominated the Northwest League, and it looked fairly easy, despite the fact that…

…he also managed the worst walk rate in the Northwest League at 14.5%, and that too is one of the highest in all of the minors. Therein lies the first problem with Berroa.

There’s no denying the stuff - it is top-5 in the minors stuff, if not even higher. The fastball reportedly features a generational IVB (induced/implied vertical break - essentially, the perceived rise from the batter’s perspective). This, in a pitch he has yet to even throw to the “correct” parts of the zone and only 35% of the time, is a big-league pitch yesterday.

The slider, too, has an excellent shape and would play well, if (and this is a most fundamental “if”) he could command it. Currently, despite the unreal stuff, Berroa is just absolutely burying those sliders so much of the time. When he’s not burying it, it’s going way off to his glove side.

This is a contributor, perhaps, to his second big flaw - his length thus far as a professional has been dismal.

As adult bees average about 4 cm in length, Berroa also averages about 4, when it comes to innings per start. This is, of course, not enough. Part of it is Berroa pitching himself into and out of sticky (honey pun) situations - but he’s almost never thrown more than 60 pitches in an appearance. These two weaknesses, along with his smaller size for a starter (he measures in at 5’11”, 170 lbs, though he likely is closer to 180 now) and a lack of a real third pitch has many pegging him for a future move to the bullpen.

This season will be a big one for him in determining where he ends up. This spring (winter) already is proving to hold some hints as to where he’ll be pitching soon - his fastball is apparently running up to 99+ mph, and the changeup is flashing better than it was last year when it was a bad pitch.

Moving to the bullpen has lots of obvious benefits for this profile - his stuff will play up even more with less time to adjust to it, he’ll likely be able to control his stuff a little more with fewer innings to think about, and it reduces his need for a solid third pitch. Sometimes, that move is viewed as a cap on upside, and “giving up” on a prospect. However, Mariners fans are likely to remember a certain talented starting pitcher with stuff but with less control and length in his arm who ended up being quite a successful relief pitcher.

There isn’t much debate about who Prelander Berroa The Pitcher is today. He’s a power pitcher in need of a good third pitch. He has a once-in-a-decade fastball that has caused several Trackman devices to implode into little dust clouds across the country that he throws relatively rarely. He strikes out more than 1 in 3 batters he faces, and had the 5th highest K% in the minors last season. Unfortunately, he also has no clue where that nasty slider is going - he also had the 5th-highest BB%. He’s also certainly worth more than one (1) Donovan Walton.

Even though it’s not an ultra instructive exercise, the people love it (and it’s fun!), so let’s play the floor/ceiling game. His current profile isn’t that of a super low floor and ultra high ceiling - it’s quite a bit better than that, actually. He absolutely has that high ceiling. The high end, to me, looks like Carlos Rodón or Jhoan Duran - but to me, his realistic 50% outcome looks more like a Hector Neris, a workhorse high-leverage arm who is dependable late in the game, and carves out a very successful career in the back of some bullpen.

If the thought of André Muñoz, Paul Sewald and Matt Brash being joined by this guy sometime this summer doesn’t excite you, you simply must not be a fan of relief pitching.

I’m even higher on him than I was at the end of last season. This is no guy - this is a dude. He might even bee something special.