TORONTO — This April, after hanging out 68 batters over the primary 37 innings of his senior season at American Heritage Excessive College in Plantation, Fla., Brandon Barriera sat down with these closest to him and made an fascinating resolution. He selected to cease pitching.
For now, that’s. The 6’2, 180-lbs. left-hander felt he’d accomplished greater than sufficient to reveal his readiness for the following stage, working his fastball as much as the high-90’s and whipping a biting slider previous highschool bats earlier than the skilled scouts that crammed the stands at every of his begins.
And he’d proven them much more on the summer season showcase circuit the 12 months prior, the place he utilized his mid-80’s changeup extra usually in opposition to superior hitters, whereas mixing within the mid-70’s curveball he’d gotten away from in highschool competitors the place he wanted solely his two main weapons.
What else did he have to realize? He had outcomes, gaudy stuff metrics, a dedication to Vanderbilt College in his again pocket if issues didn’t go his manner on draft day.
And he had a cautionary story. One in every of Barriera’s closest associates is Dylan Lesko, the right-hander the San Diego Padres chosen No. 15 general on this 12 months’s draft. Lesko was trending to be chosen a lot greater, probably inside the high 5, earlier than he started experiencing forearm soreness this spring and finally required Tommy John surgical procedure.
“We’ve the identical work ethic. We go about issues the identical manner. And seeing what occurred to him and the way he went down that fast — after which additionally wanting on the school guys and seeing high school guys go right down to arm accidents — I used to be simply going off of that,” Barriera says, reflecting on the choice to chop his senior 12 months brief. “Simply wanting on the greater image. The perfect factor I can do is be out there. So, coming in right here, I needed to ensure that I used to be at the very best body-wise on the sphere and off the sphere. With the ability to do issues with them and purchase into the method right here.”
“Right here” is Dunedin, Fla. and “them” can be the Toronto Blue Jays, the group that drafted Barriera with its first general choose earlier this month, solely eight alternatives after the Padres plucked his buddy Dylan off the board.
The Blue Jays have been in any respect eight of Barriera’s begins this spring and, as soon as they obtained to know him and the reasoning behind shortening his season, have been excited to see the 18-year-old fall to them at No. 23. The membership was ready to execute a number of draft methods relying on what was out there to them in direction of the again finish of the primary spherical — however constructing round Barriera was amongst their most well-liked routes.
As soon as he agreed to just accept a $3.6-million bonus — a bit of greater than $500,000 north of the slot worth of that choose — to maintain him away from Vanderbilt, the membership moved shortly to get him drafted, signed, and in uniform at its new participant growth facility in Dunedin.
That’s the place he’ll be spending the remainder of his summer season into the autumn, taking the primary steps in direction of sometime, he and the group hopes, pitching for the Blue Jays in Toronto.
“It is one thing I’ve all the time needed to be part of,” Barriera stated. “Seeing pitchers like Jose Berrios, Alek Manoah, Jordan Romano, all these guys, their complete pitching workers, all of them go on the market, do what they should do, put their staff in the very best state of affairs to win. They go in day in and day trip, and so they do not miss a step. With the ability to see that and understanding that they began off the place I began off — we’re all beginning on the identical place — and seeing how effectively they transitioned and go about issues, I am excited to be right here and I am excited to purchase into all these things.”
After all, Toronto collection of Barriera is a dangerous one. The attrition price of highschool pitchers taken early within the draft is substantial — whether or not as a consequence of damage, stalled growth, or each.
Nevertheless it’s simpler to imagine that danger when the pitcher comes loaded with an arsenal like Barriera’s. His fastball sat within the mid-90’s throughout his senior 12 months, complemented by a tough slider that was registered with spin charges approaching 3,000 by his journey ball coaches. A changeup and curveball spherical out his repertoire, with the previous that includes the potential to grow to be a 3rd plus pitch.
“The pitches in a vacuum are good,” says Blue Jays novice scouting director Shane Farrell. “A fastball that is as much as 98, pitching within the mid-90’s. The slider’s a very good pitch — his finest secondary pitch that he has presently. He did present really feel to spin and land the curveball. And the changeup’s a growth pitch for him. However I feel wanting on the general arsenal, it is robust and superior for an 18-year-old.”
In some methods, Barriera is sort of a extra superior Ricky Tiedemann, who got here out of highschool with a fastball within the low-90’s, a still-developing slider, and changeup. As soon as the Blue Jays chosen Tiedemann No. 91 general within the 2021 draft, they uncovered him to an expert surroundings and coaching strategies, serving to him add measurement to his body and iron out inefficiencies in his supply, which shortly added velocity to his fastball and motion to his slider. Now, the 19-year-old’s capturing up high prospects lists and the Blue Jays group itself, with a double-A debut looming.
Like Tiedemann, Barriera will spend the remainder of his draft 12 months in Dunedin, present process a lot of the identical programming. He received’t even step on a mound till the autumn, throwing flippantly on flat floor for now whereas focusing most of his power on growing skilled habits and routines, forming a vitamin plan, and bettering his energy, conditioning, and motion patterns. His first bullpen as an expert received’t come till September.
The weird nature of Barriera’s spring performs a task, too. He hasn’t pitched competitively since mid-April and the Blue Jays are reticent to ramp him again as much as common recreation motion with the tip of the minor league season looming in lower than two months.
“I feel that is why the throwing development that our pitching coordinators have mapped out shall be fairly regular, fairly thorough, and diligent with how they’re bringing him alongside,” Farrell says. “It will not be nearly throwing quantity. Nevertheless it’ll be about incorporating all the pieces else developmentally that goes into the participant plan. Power and conditioning, vitamin, issues like that. That may finally decide when he is recreation prepared.”
Barriera and the remainder of Toronto’s draft class is presently working via a two-week growth camp in Dunedin designed to introduce them to the Blue Jays group, the assets it affords, and the rules it values. Among the many group is Tucker Toman, the switch-hitting highschool shortstop the Blue Jays chosen with the No. 77 general choose and signed for first-round cash.
That $2-million bonus — greater than twice the $846,900 slot worth the place Toman was chosen — tells you all the pieces you could learn about how a lot the Blue Jays like him. As does the very fact the membership introduced Toman to their participant growth complicated to fulfill entrance workplace members and workers previous to the draft.
After all, the switch-hitting shortstop was already accustomed to Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava, who’s recognized his father — Jim, Center Tennessee’s head baseball coach — since Toman was younger. That connection was integral within the Blue Jays fostering a powerful relationship with Toman over his highschool years. And within the days for the reason that draft, Toman’s hinted at having alternatives to be chosen earlier for a bigger bonus. That he went the place he did for what he did speaks to a powerful need to affix Toronto’s group.
“One thing that gave us essentially the most confidence in making that choose was simply how he goes about his work, how diligent he’s, the way in which he grew up within the recreation, understanding the day-to-day grind and failure that comes together with it,” Farrell says. “Loads of novice gamers have been the very best amongst their friends and have not actually skilled it. However for Tucker, having a entrance row view to lots of gamers and with the ability to expertise their successes and failures second hand is essential.
“I feel it will serve him higher for the long term. Viewing Tucker not too long ago this previous week at our draft camp and even simply seeing how a lot pleasure and pleasure he has being on the subject is basically one thing enjoyable to look at.”
Past Toman, an fascinating thread that runs via the place participant facet of Toronto’s draft class is the glut of school hitters the membership chosen with demonstrated on-base expertise. Within the second spherical, they added Josh Kasevich, a right-hander who walked as many occasions as he struck out over three seasons with Oregon. Within the third, they chose Alan Roden, whose 3.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio — the Creighton first baseman walked 29 occasions in opposition to solely eight strikeouts throughout 242 plate appearances — led all NCAA Div. 1 hitters this season.
Within the seventh, it was Peyton Williams, a 6’5, 255-lb. mountain of a primary baseman who walked as many occasions as he struck out this season with Iowa. Within the eighth, Dylan Rock, an outfielder who walked three extra occasions than he struck out for Texas A&M.
All 4 of these gamers have demonstrated above-average contact capacity — Kasevich and Roden particularly — in opposition to school pitching, which isn’t any assure to switch to the skilled ranks however definitely higher to have than to not. It’s just like Toronto’s current strategy internationally, the place it’s signed a collection of high-profile, hit-first gamers resembling Gabriel Moreno, Leo Jimenez, Estiven Machado, and Mauel Beltre.
“Contact is definitely a trait that that we worth,” Farrell says. “The pitching is just going to get harder and swing-and-miss solely will increase and turns into extra prevalent as they climb the ladder. So, buying two guys in Kasevich and Roden which have good barrel accuracy and robust contact expertise are two issues that we have been actually drawn to.”
Why search contact over energy at a time when StatCast has given us a greater understanding than ever of the worth of hard-hit charges? One chance is that the Blue Jays really feel their beefed-up developmental surroundings in Dunedin may help gamers add measurement and improve hard-hit charges extra simply than it may educate them to make extra constant contact with the ball.
Many organizations league-wide, laden with younger gamers that includes over-aggressive swings inspired by the hunt for large exit velocity readings, at the moment are preaching the significance of swing selections, following within the footsteps of the Los Angeles Dodgers who made it a tenet of their developmental strategy years in the past. The Blue Jays could possibly be making an attempt to chop in the other way, seeking to take gamers who make good swing selections inherently and educate them to drive pitches with extra authority.
Nothing flawed with going in opposition to the grain. Ask Barriera, who, in shutting down his spring season early and nonetheless receiving a considerable first-round draft bonus, has charted a singular course to the professionals that extremely touted novice pitchers behind him might observe. Now, he’ll attempt to chart his quickest potential path to the majors.
“In terms of competing, I take that stuff actual severe. It is what I like to do. I like to play the sport of baseball. I am not going to let anyone take that away from me,” he says. “It has been my dream. Coming right here and doing this each day is one thing that I’ve fallen in love with and one thing that I have been working all my life to do.”