With the 23rd overall pick of the 2022 MLB Draft, the Blue Jays made LHP Brandon Barriera their most recent first round pick out of storied American Heritage HS in Plantation, Florida. He was the top ranked high school lefty in the draft class, with a college commitment to Vanderbilt, and immediately made a statement in his post-draft MLB Network interview at the draft that “those 22 teams before me, they’re going to regret it”.
Reports on the 6’2” Barriera note an athletic delivery and major arm speed that enable a low-90s fastball that has touched in the upper-90s this spring and projects for aver of better command. MLB Pipeline notes his slider as his best secondary, but Keith Law notes note distinct breaking balls, and Maria Torres of the The Athletic had a report about him having a very high spin curveball, having touched 3,000 RPM while averaging 2,800 this spring.
Barriera also some feel for a change-up, though like with most high school pitchers it’s more about projecting on it. But there’s very clearly the buildings of a solid starting pitcher, with three pitches at should be average or above, the build, command and competitive intensity. Negatives? Well, the Brooklyn native grew up a Yankees fan (at least he knows to dislike the Red Sox). it’s a pick generally commensurate with pre-draft ranks that had him anywhere from the teens (ESPN 13th, MLB Pipeline 15th) to the 20s (FanGraphs at 25th).
At the outset, it’s always worth noting that high school pitching is the riskiest demographic out there, so this is not at all a safe pick. it also a demographic the Jays have generally shied away from in the Shapiro/Atkins area, with Adam Kloffenstein (first round money as a 3rd rounder in 2018), Kendall Williams (2019 2nd round) and Irv Carter (third round money as a 5th rounder in 2021) representing the only major investments. Interestingly, two of those three were also from from Florida, as well as couple other high school pitches they signed overslot further down.
Keith Law notes that:
It’s premium stuff, and he’s aggressive on the mound. If he gets to consistent strikes, he’s an above-average starter...He doesn’t offer much projection, but he also doesn’t need it given his present stuff, and his build right now seems sufficient for him to stay a starter.
One intriguing note comes from Eric Longenhagen’s write-up at FanGraphs, noting “Barriera looks like a slightly shorter Ricky Tiedemann at the same age.” While Tiedemann drafted a year older out of junior college, the Jays would be thrilled if Barriera looks as good in a year as Tiedemann does.
According to both Longenhagen and Torres, his signing bonus is expected to come in significantly overslot, which isn’t a huge surprise given that he was generally expected to be picked before them and has the Vandy commitment. One wonders in fact if the Jays somewhat engineered his fall to them by agreeing to meet a higher price tag than other teams were comfortabke with.
If those reports are correct, the Jays are making a pretty significant gamble with this pick. It’s not just rolling the dice on the 23rd overall pick on a high school pitcher, but a significant opportunity cost beyond that. Of course, if Barriera works out and develops into a major league starter, then it will still be more than worth it.