Rosters for the World Baseball Classic won’t be set until Feb. 6, but Twins right-hander Jose Berrios has no reason to think he will be asked to skip this year’s event for Puerto Rico.
Asked this weekend at TwinsFest if he planned to pitch, as he did in 2013, the 22-year-old broke into a big smile.
“Oh, yeah, I think so,” he said. “If I go to the WBC, I’ll be a starting pitcher, so it would be a normal spring training routine.”
Berrios, who worked two innings in relief four years ago in the WBC, said he has thrown off a bullpen mound three times already this offseason. Coming off a career-high 31 starts, 14 of them in the majors, Berrios saw his request to pitch in the Puerto Rican Winter League rejected by Twins management, which wants him at full strength in 2017.
“I feel great,” Berrios said. “Healthy, strong, just like every year at this time.”
Another offseason of high-intensity workouts under the tutelage of his trainer and life coach, Josue Lionel Rivera, has Berrios in a good place mentally and physically. He would love nothing more than to shine on the world stage for Puerto Rico, which also figures to include fellow Twins Hector Santiago, Kennys Vargas and Eddie Rosario on its WBC roster.
“That’s my country, that’s my colors,” Berrios said, “but I represent the Minnesota Twins, too, so I have to wait. When (the Twins) say they approve, I’m good.”
Veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong will be paid at a rate of $1 million if he’s added to the Twins’ big-league roster at some point this season.
Signed recently to a minor-league deal, Vogelsong, 39, stands to earn up to an additional $2.5 million if he makes 30 starts in the big leagues. He also has $1 million worth of incentives should he appear in 55 games, with five different levels of $200,000 payments.
There is no in-season opt-out date at this point should Vogelsong not head north with the club out of spring training. As a veteran, he has the typical late March ability to become a free agent if not added to the 40-man roster.
“He’s a smart guy,” Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said. “He’s been around, and he wants to be in the major leagues. We were one of the clubs he and his agent targeted because they saw a fit here.”
Armed with a 2.92 earned-run average in 37 career postseason innings, including seven starts for the San Francisco Giants, Vogelsong worked to a 4.81 ERA in 24 outings (14 starts) for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season.
“I think he’s got a little bit of leadership ability, too,” Antony said. “Partially, it’s the way he goes about it, but I think he communicates well with the younger pitchers and tries to help them. From all accounts, he’s got really, really good makeup.”
Like Nick Tepesch, also signed this month to a minor-league deal with a $1 million base salary in the majors, Vogelsong gives the Twins additional pitching depth. Antony cited Kevin Correia, who made 54 starts with a 4.49 ERA for the Twins in 2013-14, as a reasonable comparison.
“It’s a low-risk thing with a chance for some upside benefit,” he said. “He could give some of our younger guys more time to develop if they’re not ready.”
Twins catcher Jason Castro has decided not to participate in the WBC for Team Mexico, citing his responsibilities in learning a new pitching staff after signing a three-year deal as a free agent this offseason.
“I’ve got a lot ahead of me as far as learning these guys,” said Castro, who plans to arrive in Fort Myers on Feb. 12, two days before the first on-field workout for pitchers and catchers. “Leaving in the middle of that would probably be unfair to everybody.”
Castro’s paternal great-grandfather was adopted in Mexico but was a Native American of Cherokee descent. The family doesn’t have records of the great-grandfather’s birth name but that connection was enough to prompt a WBC invitation.
Veteran slugger Mike Napoli remains on the open market and has helped both former teams of Derek Falvey (Cleveland Indians) and Thad Levine (Texas Rangers) reach the World Series, so speculation about the Twins has reached several national reports.
However, Napoli, who maxed out his incentive-laden deal at $10 million last season in Cleveland and has played in eight of the past 10 postseasons, is expected to sign elsewhere, a person with direct knowledge said.
Including the postseason, Napoli hit just .181 with a .586 combined on-base/slugging percentage in his final 60 games last year, a span of 247 plate appearances that began on Aug. 12. He struck out 69 times (27.9 percent) during that slide.
Sources indicate the Twins are unlikely to hand out any multiyear deals to relievers as they continue to shop for last-minute bargains. As an organization, they have eschewed multiyear deals to outside relievers, dating at least to their first World Series championship in 1987, and the new regime doesn’t seem eager to reverse that trend.
The Twins remain in the market for possible bounce-back relievers available on modest one-year deals, with well-traveled lefty Craig Breslow prominent among that group.