SARASOTA, Fla. – Orioles pitching prospect Tim Berry’s ascension from 50th-round pick to the organization’s 40-man roster is a remarkable one.
But when you hear the 22-year-old talk about his progress – and how realistic and mature he seems to be about his bright future – it doesn’t seem so surprising.
The left-hander is one of the Orioles organization’s high risers.
Following a year at high Class-A Frederick in which he went 11-7 with a 3.85 ERA on the season and won nine of his last 13 decisions, Berry was dominant in the Arizona Fall League, pitching to a 1.84 ERA in 14 2/3 innings.
Berry won both of his starts in the AFL, throwing four shutout innings in each game, and allowed just one run over his final 13 2/3 innings with 11 strikeouts and nine hits allowed in that span.
The Orioles rewarded Berry this offseason when they placed him on their 40-man roster. He will pitch in his first major league camp this spring, but participating in this week’s minicamp in Sarasota is a tune-up for that. Here he will throw in front of major league staff and meet with manager Buck Showalter, as well as new pitching coach Dave Wallace and new bullpen coach Dom Chiti
Berry is ranked the Orioles’ sixth best prospect by Baseball America, a list he cracked for the first time. The organization believes he could move quickly through the farm system, but Berry has managed to keep it all in perspective.
“Obviously, I’m glad they view me highly,” Berry said. “It’s kind of irrelevant. If I can take care of what I need to take care of and progress how I feel like I’m progressing, it will work out. That’s really what I’m excited about more than anything, that I feel myself progressing, especially in the second half of last year and in the fall league. I feel like I’m taking steps forward. I’m more excited about that than what anybody else thinks about how I’m doing.”
At the minicamp, his locker is along the same row as the Orioles’ last three first-round picks – Dylan Bundy (2011), Kevin Gausman (2012) and Hunter Harvey (2013).
Berry was also projected to be a top pick before he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow as a high school senior and was bound for Tommy John surgery. Berry expected to go to college, but the Orioles took him in the 50thround and reportedly gave him a $125,000 signing bonus. Orioles minor league medical coordinator Dave Walker supervised his rehab.
Now it’s all paying off for Berry and the Orioles.
“I was happy for the opportunity in 2009, that they still took me,” Berry said. “I figured I was going to college after I got hurt. It’s rewarding to myself mostly that I’m progressing the way I thought I would progress. Maybe it takes longer. The time frame I wasn’t sure of, but I knew I had it in me to get better from that point. I’m glad I made that decision. I came in and Dave Walker took care of my arm, and I’ve been healthy ever since.”
Berry will likely start the season at Double-A Bowie, and the Orioles have called up players from that level – Manny Machado and Gausman are two recent examples.
“That is how it works, but I need to be ready for that call, so when I get that call, I’m going to stay,” Berry said. “When I get that call, I’m ready. That’s all I care about. I don’t know when it’s coming, this year, next year, 10 years from now, but I need to be ready when it happens.”
Berry said the key to his success the past year has been improving his fastball command, which has allowed him to set up his changeup and an improving curveball. But his mental maturity on the mound has helped him better attack hitters.
“[Having] the fastball command and being able to change speed with the changeup with that fastball command, all of sudden you’re in control of the at-bat,” Berry said. “I felt like I was much more in control this year with what was happening as opposed to years past, where all of a sudden, I was 2-0, 2-1 [in the count], and I’m playing to their strengths. So fastball command was really the important thing, but that stems from the mental side.
“I used to have that the kind of personality, especially when I was younger, that I need to be perfect,” he added. “Like if I can hit that outside fastball once, [I thought] why can’t I do it every time? But that’s not how it works. As I grew and I started to understand and be a little bit easier on myself, I started to develop and I was able to hit that more often. Then I’m not putting more pressure on myself. It’s kind of like a relaxation to do what I can do.”