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Brandon Barriera dominates in professional debut

Faces the minimum over four shutout innings against low-A Fort Myers

2022 MLB Draft Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Dunedin Blue Jays pitching staff has been dominant to start the 2023 season, with their league leading 2.67 ERA nearly a full run better than the next best team (alas, at an anemic 3.8 runs per game their bats are at the other end almost half a run clear of the next worst). Last night they got a further boost when the 23rd overall pick of last year’s draft was added mix. And Brandon Barriera had quite the professional debut in Fort Myers.

Facing the league top offensive unit over the first month, Barriera shut them down over four shutout innings in which he faced the minimum. The only blemish was a four pitch walk leading off the second inning that was quickly erased on a caught stealing. The other 11 batters went down on six strikeouts, four ground outs, and a lone flyout the only ball to leave the infield.

The tone was set from the first inning, with the first pitch of the night 94 MPH. After a routine groundout to short, he struck the next two out swinging at sliders. There may have been some nerves, as he ran the count full twice to two of those first three batters and then the walk to the fourth batter, but really settled in as he only went to even two balls to one subsequent hitter.

Barriera added swinging strikeouts in the second and third, and racking up the final two looking in the fourth at both the breaking ball and a 95 MPH fastball. For the most part, it was just the fastball and slider, with the pitch tracking system recording just four changeups of 49 pitches (30 strikes). Hitters took 20 hacks, coming up empty 8 times for a 40% whiff rate.

On top of high level rate of injury attrition, the inherent risk of high school pitching is that amateur potential doesn’t translate to pro ball. In ranking Barriera 4th in the BBB Top 40 this winter, we explored this range of outcomes where over 50% of the cream of the HS pitching crop don’t have more than a cup of coffee and a third don’t make it at all.

In the latter group, some of that is injuries, but a substantial number are those are blue chip prospects who just never get traction in pro ball. In some cases, it’s the stuff backing up under a more rigourous workload versus airing it out on the showcase circuit. In others, it’s a lack of strikethrowing exploited by hitters not being completely overwhelmed by a level of stuff they’ve never seen before.

This is just one start of course, and there’s a (very) long way to go. But the loudness of it has some inferential meaning. Updating the probabilistic expectation in light, I feel comfortable saying at least 5% of the bottom distribution has been attenuated. It doesn’t necessarily move the dial much at this point because it’s one start so you’re redistributing it mostly to lower level outcomes rather than increasing the probability of an impact MLB outcomes.

But there’s certainly an asterisk that could turn into a major up arrow with a few more outings anywhere near this.

After Barriera, Kendrys Rojas followed with four strong innings. He was arguably even more dominant over his first two innings in striking out five (among nine total of the 12 outs). Then Rojas ran into some trouble inn the 7th inning when he was squared up for three straight line drive hits and the lone run (he also gave up two hard doubles and a walk).

Overall, in four outings and 17.1 innings this season, Rojas has a 1.56 ERA with 21 strikeouts against 6 walks. Our 27th ranked prospect, he’s another with a big up arrow that I’ll be interested in getting a look at when the Jays have broadcast games in St. Lucie and Bradenton later in the year (or if he’s promoted to Vancouver).