Though the names will come as no surprise, without further ado, the cream of the crop of the Toronto Blue Jays farm system in 2023.
4. Brandon Barriera, LHP, age 19 (DOB: 3/4/2004), grade: 45, 2022: high school
Barriera was selected 23rd overall in the 2022 MLB Draft out of American Heritage HS in Florida, signing for an above slot $3.6-million (more in line with the 18th-19th pick). In short, the 6’2” lefty already throws in the low-90s with a very high spin slider, still offering plenty of projection. He didn’t debut after signing, so there’s very little to add from eight months ago.
Instead, to get better context on the expected range of outcomes, let’s look at similar calibre draftees. For the 25 drafts from 1987 to 2011, I chose all high school pitchers drafted between 12th and 30th overall. Of the 99 matching profiles, 33% did not make the majors. Roughly another quarter either just got short cups of coffee, or were purely replacement level. Even along a highly select group, the odds of zero major league value are above 50%.
On the flip side, there is about as fat a tail of upside success as one will see with prospects, actually more than I initially thought and that resulted in an upward expecation. A half dozen players each ended up a fringe 30+ or 35 contributors. Eight ended up as role 40, with the same number approaching regular status at role 45.
That leaves about ~15% chance at the really high end. Five ended up durable mid-rotation arms (think Jake Westbrook, Jon Garland), five more as above average frontline starters (eg Adam Wainwright, Scott Kazmir), and four ended up as bona fida aces. If you’re really lucky, you end up with a Roy Halladay or Cole Hamels. Incidentally, teams did not better outcomes over time as information improved. Initially, my sample was 70 pitchers to 2003 and the odds were roughly the same.
3. Orelvis Martinez, SS, age 21 (DOB: 11/19/2001), grade: 45/45+, 2022: 2nd
The Blue Jays signed Martinez out of the Dominican Republic in 2018 for a $3.5-million bonus that was among the highest in his signing class. He debuted the next season in the rookie level Gulf Coast League and slashed .275/.352/.547 with 20 extra base hits in 142 AB before turning 18.
The encore had to wait until 2021, when Martinez made the jump to full season ball in quite spectacular fashion. In just 326 PA at Dunedin, he mashed 19 home runs among (perhaps even an even more impressive) 43 extra base hits en route to a .279/.369/.572 line. He added another nine bombs in just a month with Vancouver (in a high-A league where power is suppressed). By any season, it was an explosively successful age-19 season.
That being said, there were some warning flags. His strikeout rate sailed to 25%, which though high was manageable given the power output. The greater concern being that better more experienced pitchers at higher levels would further exploit his tendencies to chase to the point where it threatens viability as an above average/impact bat. His extreme fly ball profile played into the power, but he also had a ton of popups to further exacerbate the feast-or-famine dichotomy.
Those flags and fears were realized in 2022 as Martinez was challenged with an aggressive further jump to Double-A at just 20. The prodigious power again played as Martinez torched 30 home runs, but he hit just .203/.286/.446 in 192 PA for a slightly below league average line. A lot of swing-and-miss drove his strikeout rate to 28.5%. More disconcerting, the .197 BABIP with Vancouver that appeared an small sample aberration was largely repeated at .217. That’s what happens with half of contact goes in the air and a quarter or that is caught by infielders.
But again, he was just 20, when peer aged players were college sophomores. There’s essentially two schools of thought when it comes to balancing glaring flaws against such precociousness. The first is that age is the dominant factor, and the flaws will be mitigated. This is essentially the ZiPS view, which projects that Martinez could be a decent major league hitter in 2022 with a basically similar line, rising to above average in a few years closer to physical maturity.
The second is essentially that despite the age disadvantage, Martinez has been revealed for who he is. When an elite prospect stumbles, the true signal is the stumble, and absent fundamental changes, he’s a fringy bat selling out for power rather than a middle of the order anchor. This could very well by something that only 1,000 MLB at-bats answers, and for now we hedge with a significant risk failure/fringy outcomes, but a (relatively) robust tail of impact outcomes where closing the age/experience gap mitigates the flaws.
2. Addison Barger, IF, age 23 (DOB: 11/12/1999), grade: 45/45+, 2022: 39th
Barger was selected in the 6th round of the 2018 draft out of the same high school in Florida from which the Jays nabbed Derek Bell in 1987, signing him away from the University of Florida for the $271,100 slot. It stuck out then as quite compelling, representing a low opportunity cost to get a player notes for tools and upside. In the five years since, few players have undergone as much of a transformation as Barger.
Barger’s career got off to a halting start, showing a little pop and decent approach in the GCL but not really hitting. Just as he was finding his stride at Bluefield the next summer, he went on the restricted list in early July 2019 and that was it. Entering 2021, he remained on the radar but was a total wild card.
2021 proved a turning point. Barger emerged as one of the more potent Dunedin bats with 18 home runs among 41 extra base hits for a .243 ISO before a late season promotion to Vancouver. The underlying Statcast data was promising, showing an ability to elevate and impact the ball. There was a big red flag in a 33% strikeout rate, and we stuck him on the backend of the Top 40. He also had very large platoon splits, struggling against lefties.
Far more just consolidation those gains, the breakout continued in 2022 as Barger hit .308/.378/.555, cracking 26 home runs and 61 extra base hits in 526 PA across three levels to finish at Buffalo. Perhaps most impressively, he cut his strikeout rate back down to a manageable 25% while still getting to huge power. That said, the production was inflated by very high-BABIPs at all three levels that belie a fly ball and popup heavy profile.
Hitting from an upright left handed stance, Barger bears little resemblance to the draftee five years ago having put on 50+ pounds of muscle to turn into a slugger. Defensively, he’s got the most time as shortstop but has likely outgrown that. With a really good arm, third base is the logical fit. if the bat plays, he should profile just fine in an outfield corner if necessary.
There are more than a few parallels to Martinez above as power driven offensive profiles with a similar positional outlook. Barger doesn’t have the same pure upside, but while some real risk factors remain with the crucial hit tool, there’s less pure bust risk and it’s two straight years of huge up arrows.
1. Ricky Tiedemann, LHP, age 20 (DOB: 8/18/2002), grade: 55+, 2022: 5th
Tiedemann was selected in the 3rd round of the 2021 draft out of junior college in California, signing essentially right at slot for $647,300. It was a circuitous route to that point after his senior high school season was shutdown in 2020 and he decommitted from San Diego State only to have his junior college cancel their baseball program and finally transfer to Golden West College. From the maelstrom the Jays have netted quite the prize.
Tiedemann was a classic projection play, growing a couple inches into his senior year and touching the low-90s with his fastball. By junior college he filled out his 6’4” frame from 200 to 220 pounds, and his fastball sat more in the low-90s. With his fastball, slider and change-up he would flash three average or better pitches in games, but inconsistent command held back the results.
He didn’t debut after signing, but the reports from fall instructs and spring training indicated further development with velocity spiking to reaching the upper-90s. Even then, Tiedemann’s sheer dominance in 2022 was stunning. In 18 starts spread across low-A to Double-A, he struck out 117 batters in 78.2 innings with a 2.17 ERA. The raw stuff was better, but the real step forward was harnessing the arsenal to dominate hitters.
Tiedemann now sits in the mid-90s, touching in the upper-90s, though his velocity typically peaked in the first couple innings before falling off a couple MPH by the middle innings. As his workload builds, this will be something to watch. Throwing from a lower arm slot, he gets a ton of movement on a sweeping low-80s slider. It’s good, but for me, the change-up is the real standout, an easy plus pitch that tails with late fade under bats. It’s potentially three plus pitches, with two essentially already there.
The risk? Well, principally, he’s a pitcher and unfortunately they have a really bad tendency of getting hurt and falling short of potential. He also hasn’t built to anything close to a full starter’s workload, so Tiedemann still has to show he can turnover a lineup three times every fifth day for 30 starts. The difference in how Tom and I value Tiedemann is more in these inherent risks than in anything to do with him specifically.
Between the infielders, Orelvis or Addison?
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Between the lefties, the likelier to exceed the expected WAR is
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