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40 in 40: Prelander Berroa has control issues

not like the toxic interpersonal kind tho

Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Disclosure: I will not be making any Outlander memes or jokes this year, nor shall I make any Homelander/The Boys references. The simple reason for that is that I have not consumed even a modicum of either of those shows beyond that one Homelander meme. I don’t even really know what Outlander is - I refuse to google it but I think it’s the one with the time traveling and ancient Britain and perhaps bogs?

Anyways.

What’s up with Prelander Berroa?

Last season, Berroa was someone we were hot on as a staff, probably in part due to my aggressive optimism about him - I definitely gassed him up quite a bit. Last year, we had him at #6 on our prospect ranking, where I wrote:

“While his path to remaining a starter isn’t impossible to see, it’s a bit squinty at the point. Let’s expect to see him in the big-league pen in the stretch run this year if things go well for him.”

I also, as I have a couple of times, gave his realistic ceiling as Hector Neris - a back-end guy with some length who will put in a lot of innings. Our rankings have not been released this year, but I can say he’s fallen quite a bit in our newest list.

Now, to be fair, we weren’t the only ones talking him up - Baseball America, The Athletic, and the Seattle Times all did features on him last spring. He looked great in his appearances, too - here he is striking out Xander Bogaerts. That stuff is filthy.

Last year, the cliff notes on Prelander were as such: a generational fastball with off-the-charts IVB (rise), a slider that goes craaaaazy but also goes somewhere, anywhere but the strike zone. The hope was that Prelander could work out some kinks and find a new grip to fix the control on his slider, and be a late-summer, early-fall call-up to get some mid-leverage innings and test out his gnarly stuff on some major-league hitters.

Unfortunately, this didn’t manifest, and there’s not a whole lot of new things to say with Prelander after last season.

Seattle Mariners v San Diego Padres Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

In some ways, 2023 was a year of big change for Berroa. After five starts in Arkansas, the organization made the decision to move the 23-year-old to the bullpen, a move that many anticipated would be the start of a meteoric rise to the major-league pen. He dominated out of the pen, especially right when he switched over - he had 20 scoreless outings out of his first 21 as a reliever.

This story may sound familiar to some Mariners fans - as sweet of a story as it would be, Berroa is, at this point, no Edwin Díaz. Prelander’s minor-league results are even more extreme than Díaz’s his last couple of years in the minors.

Remember, one of the main concerns with Díaz was also his walk rate and general control. In 2015, he ran a 23.3% K-rate, and an 8.6% BB-rate. But in 2016, after his move to the pen, both numbers improved dramatically, to 38.1% and 4.1% respectively. Upon his move to the majors, he was lights-out, and even in 2017, his worst year with the Mariners, he was sporting a 32.0% K-rate and 11.5% BB rate. I remember a lot of hand-wringing about that BB% at the time.

Despite some changes, 2023 also saw Berroa mostly treading water, as he made little progress on the area where he needed improvement the most.

Untitled

K% BB%
K% BB%
2022: 36.5% 2022: 15.3%
2023: 36.6% 2023: 14.1%
2022 (top row) vs 2023 (bottom row)

This is pretty much…the same? There’s incremental progress here, but the BB% is still unacceptably high, especially for AA. The stellar K-BB% would have been tops on the Mariners roster last year, and tied with Paul Sewald (rip) for 32nd best in the Majors (min. 50 IP). The strikeout rate would have been 5th best in the league, in the Spencer Strider and Devin Williams tier, while the walk rate would have been bottom 10, in the cursed 2023-Alek Manoah tier.

In 2023, he also made a brief showing for the major-league club, with his debut outing in July and another one in October.

This, more than anything he’s done on the mound, is the key reason for most of our staff’s pessimism regarding Berroa. 2 measly outings shows that the org lacks confidence in him to be even a usable pen arm at this point - I remind you that we watched Luke Weaver, Ty Adcock and Dominic Leone give this team nearly 40 innings last year. It’s fairly damning for a talented young arm to be passed up for a menagerie of that variety, during what was, presumably, a genuine push for the playoffs.


So, where does that leave us going into 2024?

Toronto Blue Jays v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

This is a toxic trait of mine when it comes to certain prospects, but I’m still relatively high on him. He remains in my top-10, but he’s running out of time to translate his talent into better results (to be clear, in AA, he cleaned up the league pretty well, despite the walk issues - a 2.88 ERA and a 2.89 FIP to match means his lack of control didn’t come back around to haunt him in-game). He’s experiencing, unfortunately, the type of minor-league success that won’t translate to MLB, where more discerning eyes might blow that 14.4% BB-rate up back into the “getting-its-drivers-license” territory.

There isn’t much left to say for Prelander. This, in and of itself, is a not-great thing to say when it comes to prospects - if you aren’t showing progress, you’re actively losing ground. Prelander is running out of time to show that he has the ability to get a handle on the slider. Otherwise, his career may end up just like the slider: in the dirt.

All that said….I find myself coming back to this interview with Harry Ford.

If Berroa can get to even passable command with his breaking pitch while retaining his feel for his otherworldly fastball, Ford won’t be the only one in the league saying the same things.