"Just The Tip Of The Ice 'Berg'"

The following is a recent Scout.com feature with pitcher Justin Berg, acquired by the Cubs on Saturday for OF Matt Lawton. Berg opened up to PinstripesPlus.com (the Yankees equivalent of Inside The Ivy) about a number of things. Read more on, and from, the 21-year-old Berg inside.

Justin Berg is not often talked about as one of the Yankees top pitching prospects. But, it's about time that came to an end. The 21 year old sinker baller has about as much potential as any pitcher in the farm system. He's coming off a dominant outing and a strong overall season, but most believe that this is just the tip of the ice 'Berg.'

When it comes to Justin Berg, we have yet to even see the potential he may have. As some might say, his performance in Staten Island this year is just the tip of the ice berg. But, on Wednesday night, Justin showed us beyond the tip of the ice berg and the potential he has below the surface.

Pitching against the Hudson Valley Renegades, Berg turned in the best outing of his career, tossing five perfect innings, striking out seven in the process.

Speaking to Justin after his brilliant effort, we were able to get a feel for the type of pitcher he could be when he's on top of his game. As we've already established, this could be a preview for things to come for the right-hander. But, when he's going well, he can usually tell that it is going to be a tough night for opposing batters.

"I can pretty much tell when I'm going to pitch well," Berg told PinstripesPlus.com. "When guys are hitting a lot of ground balls off the end of the bat if the pitch is away from them or getting jammed on the inside pitches, you know you're stuff and command is good on that particular night. I can usually tell early on and then I can roll from there."

Obviously, with such an outstanding outing, it is something that, Berg, Mike Thurman, and the Yankee organization coaches are going to point to and build off of as model from him every time he takes the mound. He's pitched well in 2005, but what exactly can trigger him being that dominant?

"The keys to success are pretty simple for me I think," the righty pondered. "I get ahead with first pitch strikes. I get that first pitch over and go from there. Then, it becomes easier to get batters looking for pitches they don't expect. Another key to having a good outing is working inside and outside, working both sides of the plate back and forth. I was able to mix in a lot of different pitches."

One of the pitches that Justin Berg likes to "mix in" in his sinker. And, that very pitch is the main reason that he has so much potential to begin with. A sinker ball pitcher that can throw over 92 MPH on a consistent basis is a rare commodity to say the least.

"Berg is a guy who can run a sinker up there 93-94 MPH," Staten Island manager, Andy Stankiewicz raved. "Any time you can find a guy who can do that, he's got a lot of potential."

Modestly, however, Berg only says that it is simply his favorite pitch to go to. But, by no means is it any ordinary pitch. When asked if he realized how much potential his sinker really had, he reiterated that it was simply his go to pitch.

"It's my favorite pitch to go to, obviously," he said with a laugh. "I like throwing my two-seamer to righthanders and it has that good sink. I can run it in on hitters and away from guys too. So, it's been pretty much a go to pitch for me all season."

There's one man on the the Staten Island Yankee roster that may know Justin Berg even better than he knows himself. That is his primary catcher, P.J. Pilittere. With that in mind, he knows better than anyone just what Berg could pan out to be.

"Justin Berg is a guy that not a lot of people talk about is Justin Berg," Pilittere explained. "He's got a really, really power sinker. He's throwing 93-94 MPH with extraordinary movement. It's an explosive sinker. I think he's about a year or two away from really putting it all together. We're just trying to get him there mentality wise. The stuff is there and it's some really special stuff."

It is obvious that Berg, like Pilittere said, is only a better pitching mentality away from stardom with the type of stuff he has. And, it appears that it is already something he has been working hard on and focusing on for this season and beyond.

"It's pretty simple," the Wisconsin native said about his mentality on the mound. "I just want to go out there and get ahead. I don't try to blow everything by them and just make my pitches and focus on location. I just try not to leave any pitches up and put my pitches where they need to be. The pitches you leave up usually get smashed.

Berg also went on to comment on other improvements he'd like to make in order to reveal his vast potential next season.

"I have to get in the weight room in the off season and get a little stronger," he proclaims with a smile. "I'd like to improve on my control over the off season. Once I get the control down, then the command in the strike zone will come along even better as well. If I can be more consistent with that, I think it will help me a lot and I can have a lot more good outings."

There are many pitchers that some may compare Justin Berg to in terms of style. Between Kevin Brown, Carlos Zambrano, among others, he could be likened to many different sinker ball pitchers. However, his teammates have come up with a comparison of their own.

"A lot of the guys say I look and throw a lot like Mark Prior," the right-hander laughed. "That's pretty much what they've been calling me. So, I'll take that one."

The 2005 season has been strong, if not fantastic by season's end. The Yankees are going to take a long look at a 21 year old pitcher with a heavy sinker and he could quickly rise up the prospects charts with a strong 2006 season. But, 2005, no matter how far he takes his career, will always be remembered as the one that revealed the tip of the ice 'Berg.'

"I just came into Staten Island hoping for a good year," he told PinstripesPlus.com. "I really just wanted to get out there, and work hard and see what happened. And, so far, it has really been a breakout season and I hope to keep moving forward from here."

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Cubs replaced Lawton on the active roster by promoting INF Scott McClain, as Inside The Ivy first reported early Saturday morning. Lawton hit .244 in 19 games with the Cubs after coming over from Pittsburgh in exchange for OF Jody Gerut. For his part, Berg spent his only other season in the Yankees' farm system in the Gulf Coast League. He was 3-2 with a 5.87 ERA in 15 games, including one start.

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