Twins get 2 top Jays prospects for Berríos

Martin, Woods Richardson boast tremendous upside in substantial haul

July 31st, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- It was never going to be easy for the Twins to part ways with José Berríos, the homegrown and passionate right-hander who made two Opening Day starts for Minnesota and anchored the rotation for the better part of six seasons.

But a difficult trade that sent Berríos to Toronto ahead of Friday's Trade Deadline netted the Twins enormous talent in two players who could help the club before long. In exchange for sending Berríos north of the border, Minnesota received shortstop/outfielder Austin Martin, the No. 16 prospect in the Majors, and right-hander Simeon Woods Richardson (No. 68), who could both begin to impact the Major League roster within the next season or two.

Martin and Woods Richardson will immediately slot in as the No. 2 and No. 3 prospects in the Twins' organization per MLB Pipeline, respectively, between shortstop Royce Lewis and right-hander Jordan Balazovic. The new faces will both begin their tenures in the Minnesota organization at Double-A Wichita.

Twins get: SS/OF Austin Martin, RHP Simeon Woods Richardson
Blue Jays get: RHP José Berríos

"We've got all of the rumors and the info out there in the media, everywhere," Berríos said. "But we never expected how hard it's going to be when you get the news."

The Twins also moved a pair of impending free agents by trading J.A. Happ to the Cardinals and Hansel Robles to the Red Sox ahead of the 3 p.m. CT Trade Deadline, receiving a pair of Double-A pitching prospects in return: right-hander Alex Scherff from Boston and left-hander Evan Sisk from St. Louis. (Right-hander John Gant also came back in the Happ deal.)

Berríos has been with the Twins from the start of his consistent and productive six-year Major League career, ever since Minnesota drafted him in the first round in 2012. Since his big league debut in '16, he posted a 4.08 ERA in 136 appearances, with 779 strikeouts in 781 1/3 innings. He noted that it was difficult for both he and his wife to say goodbye to Minnesota after the opportunities he had been afforded by the organization.

"Here in the Major Leagues -- that's a big dream for a young kid from Puerto Rico who grew up dreaming and hoping to be a Major League player," Berríos said. "I had a chance to make that here in Minnesota. When you've got your first team or your first time in everything, that's where I made my MLB debut, so it's going to be in my heart all my life."

Though Berríos made Minnesota's Opening Day starts in 2019 and '20, he had continued to work hard with the Twins and pitching coach Wes Johnson over the last two years to improve the quality of his offspeed pitches and durability. He saw that work pay off with a career-best 3.48 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 20 starts during the '21 season.

Though the Twins hoped he would be able to build off his five innings of one-run ball against the Astros in last season's American League Wild Card Series in another playoff run this season, the struggles of Minnesota's pitching staff outside Berríos necessitated this sale -- and his pursuit of the postseason elsewhere.

"In my mind, inside of me, I had, 'No. I'm not going to leave here. I'm not going to leave the Twins organization,'" Berríos said. "But that happened."

Berríos is under team control through the 2022 season, meaning the Twins didn't necessarily have to move him at this Deadline -- especially considering president of baseball operations Derek Falvey's stated hope that Minnesota could retool quickly into a sustainable contender.

"Beyond the player on the field, just a Class A human being, right?" Falvey said. "We all know that. The way he goes about his work, who he is as a teammate, that’s an incredibly difficult conversation to have. I will tell you this: The way he talked about his time here in Minnesota, the way he feels about this team, the way he feels about this organization, the fans, all of it -- he’s just a top-quality person. And he knows this is part of the business."

But the return in this trade should help with that, too.

Martin, 22, was the No. 5 overall selection in the 2020 MLB Draft out of Vanderbilt, and despite losing his first professional season to the COVID-19 pandemic, the young shortstop and center fielder has immediately hit well in the high Minors to begin his career in '21, with a .281/.424/.383 slash line indicative of his advanced eye at the plate in 55 games with Toronto's Double-A affiliate in New Hampshire.

The Twins should have no trouble finding a fit for the polished hitter, considering he's had experience at shortstop, second base, third base and center field throughout his college days and into his professional career.

"This is truly a top of the Draft talent who was drafted one year ago, playing in Double-A right now with no professional experience prior to that, and continuing to hit well," Falvey said. "He’s hit well at Double-A in aggregate, but even over the last month, he continues to get better. We think this guy is a very special player."

Lewis, who has also played shortstop and center field, is sidelined for the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL, and the continued inability for the Twins and Byron Buxton to arrive at a contract extension could leave an opening in center for either Lewis or Martin in the coming years.

Woods Richardson was the second-highest-ranked pitching prospect in the Blue Jays' organization, per MLB Pipeline, and the 20-year-old has continued to post big strikeout numbers in Double-A this season with 67 K's and a 5.76 ERA in 45 1/3 innings after he too missed the 2020 season due to the pandemic. MLB Pipeline describes the right-hander as having the potential to grow into a No. 2 or 3 starter, with what was described as the best changeup in Toronto's system.

Considering the Twins needed pitching in the high Minors to match up with a position player core that began its maturation to the Majors in 2021, they've gathered quite the haul of high-upside arms at this Trade Deadline, netting Woods Richardson, Joe Ryan (Minnesota's No. 8 prospect) and Drew Strotman (No. 15) in trades for Nelson Cruz and Berríos.

"We’ve added to our stable of pitching guys that are at the upper level, guys that we think are really good that can join the likes of Jordan Balazovic and Josh Winder, Matt Canterino, a number of other guys -- guys that are coming back and being healthy," Falvey said.