MINNEAPOLIS — Rocco Baldelli hasn’t had a chance to spend much time around Brusdar Graterol yet. He doesn’t know too much about the kid with the electric right arm and near-triple-digit fastball.
But there’s one thing that became apparent to him very quickly after spending a few days in the clubhouse with the young pitcher: Graterol looks up to Jose Berrios.
And those might not even be strong enough words to describe it.
“He reveres the guy,” Baldelli said.
The bond between two core pieces of the Twins’ future pitching plans has developed over the years. Graterol, who recently celebrated his 21st birthday, was called up on Sept. 1, and now he is finally sharing a clubhouse with Berrios, a two-time all-star. Berrios, just 25 himself, seems more than happy to play the role of mentor.
Berrios called Graterol a “humble guy” who works hard and is a good teammate. When Graterol has questions, Berrios makes sure he has some answers. This spring, Graterol, along with Double-A pitching coach Cibney Bello, spent a day following Berrios around, watching his routine so Graterol could pick up tips at the suggestion of front office officials.
“We’re constantly trying to figure out ways to get our young players understanding of what a major league routine is and what a really good routine is,” chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said. “…Let them do their jobs, watch, observe and then if you have questions, ask.”
Having successful players mentor younger players and then continuing that cycle as they keep teaching one another is part of building a “sustainable culture,” Falvey said. This wasn’t a one-off event with Berrios and Graterol. Other prospects have done this too, Falvey said, and Jorge Alcala was another pitcher who spent time shadowing Berrios this spring in in Fort Myers.
Bello said they arrived early on a March day near the end of spring training and spent the day watching everything Berrios did.
“The little details, how prepared he was, discipline, how consistent he was with his routine — that was pretty much one of the reasons why we want him to look at Berrios’s (routine),” Bello said.
Graterol took specific note of Berrios’s stretching routine and then started implementing it for himself. Throughout the course of the year, Bello said Berrios’s name would often come up in conversation.
“He wants to be like him. He’s his role model. He’s never in trouble. He’s always following directions,” Bello said. “He works really hard. (You never) hear anything bad about him. He’s always the same guy, no matter what the results are. That’s his role model. He wants to be like him some day.”
So much so that Graterol has taken Berrios’s nickname — “La Makina” — and adopted it for himself. Berrios was given the nickname as a teenager in Puerto Rico by his trainer, who, while commenting on his relentless work ethic, told him he was “like a machine.” Berrios later subbed in the K in the word “maquina,” to signify strikeouts.
The nickname ties back to Berrios’s work ethic, which is one of the primary reasons Graterol has chosen him to try to emulate.
“One of the things is his work ethic on and off the field and also how he gets along with his family,” Graterol said of why he looks up to Berrios. “Off the field, how he is as a person and as a baseball player in general as well.”
Graterol had the nickname stitched onto his glove, creating some confusion during his debut that left some wondering whether he had borrowed a glove from Berrios to use.
“Once I met him off the field, I kind of took that nickname for myself. Part two, I guess, so I used that,” Graterol said. “Because when I look at myself in the mirror, it’s a mini makina.”
Graterol has gone as far branding himself as “El Nino Makina,” on Twitter — “el nino,” which translates to “the boy.” Berrios, for his part, has no qualms about sharing the nickname.
“He’s a real makina,” Berrios said. “He’s working really hard every day in the field, so he’s earned it.”
Aside from watching his work ethic, Graterol has been able to pick Berrios’s brain in recent days about both pitching and the goings on in a major league clubhouse. The Twins couldn’t be happier with the guy their top pitching prospect has chosen to look up to, since Berrios is often lauded for his maturity.
“Talking with him and kind of watching him go about his business, if you just pay attention a little bit, you get the feeling he looks up to him and respects Jose an extraordinary amount,” Baldelli said. “…Jose’s a really good guy for him to be looking at and watching.”