Barriera vows to make teams regret passing him up after Blue Jays take him at No. 23
LOS ANGELES – The wait to No. 23 was agonizing for Brandon Barriera, and not just because he was rocking a dark suit on a 34 C afternoon that was scorching even in the shade at the L.A. LIVE entertainment complex.
Uncertainty about the future isn’t easy and the 18-year-old left-hander was eager to figure out where he was going. He didn’t expect it to take two-plus hours for his name was called. He didn’t know the Toronto Blue Jays were really on him until two picks before it was their turn.
Emotions struck once it was official. He hugged his family. He broke down on TV during his first post-selection interview and then vowed to make the other 22 teams regret passing him up.
What a ride.
“I’ll stand by that until I make my major-league debut and even then, it makes this game a whole lot easier now,” Barriera said in an interview. “I’m actually thankful all those teams passed up on me because I’m going to use that and work to get better and become the best player I can be.”
That mix of confidence and competitiveness made for quite a first impression and, in combination with his athleticism, mid-90s fastball, plus slider, changeup and breaking ball, helped hook in the Blue Jays.
His skill-set checks many of the boxes they seek out in pitchers, even if “there’s a greater risk when you’re selecting a high school pitcher in that area,” said amateur scouting director Shane Farrell. “Somebody like Brandon, with his pitch mix, we’re excited about the quality of stuff he’s going to bring to the field.”
Picking in the bottom third of the opening round left the Blue Jays unable to zero in on a couple of players, instead building out a group of options they felt would be available in that range. One major surprise early in the draft – the Texas Rangers taking right-hander Kumar Rocker at No. 3 – had a trickle-down effect that led to several other changes.
As the machinations played out, Barriera waited and waited – “it’s not a great feeling just kind of sitting there,” he said – and once his name was called, there was “a lot of relief on my shoulders. That was the hard part. Now comes the easy part. I get to go and play baseball.”
The Blue Jays were an unexpected landing spot, but they were also a welcomed one.
Barriera, identified by area scout Adrian Casanova, is committed to Vanderbilt but the No. 23 pick’s assigned value is $3,075,300. In the second round, at No. 60 overall, they took shortstop Josh Kasevich out of Oregon, at No. 77 they picked switch-hitting infielder Tucker Toman out of Hammond High School in Columbia, S.C., before grabbing Cade Doughty, a second baseman from Louisiana State one pick later.
The Blue Jays will have a total signing bonus pool of $8,367,700 to work with, boosted nearly $1.7 million by the compensatory picks at Nos. 77-78 for the departures of Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray.
“We feel like we’re in a good place,” Farrell said of signing all four picks. “We don’t foresee much difficulty in getting things done as it stands right now.”
The infielders were all projected to go higher than they did in the third-party rankings and the Blue Jays were to “to manage our bonus allotment in a way that allowed us to acquire two hitters that we believe in and some upside in acquiring two high-school players today, as well,” said Farrell.
Kasevich, drafted by area scout Ryan Fox, is a high-contact, high-walk, low-strikeout hitter with a chance to stay up the middle.
Toman, selected by Mike Tidick, is the big swing here, someone Baseball America described as “one of the better hit/power high school players in the class” but also as a “fringy defender.”
Doughty, scouted by Chris Curtis, showed increased power this season, driving balls into gaps “with higher exit velocities than seen before,” per Baseball America.
“We acquired three different types of hitters,” said Farrell. “Josh, very much contact-oriented. Tucker we believe has some power potential and Cade is just a good hitter in his own right. We’re excited about all three of them.”
Barriera was born in New York and grew up a Yankees fan mesmerized by lefty Andy Pettitte but moved to Florida when he was nine. At 11, he joined the Cannons Baseball Academy, where director Nick James worked with him on his pitching and coached him in travel ball.
Their bond is such is that he was with Barriera and his family at the draft and praised the person as much as the “good stuff.”
“Most of this year he was 94-97, up to 99 a few times. Real power slider. We had it over 3000 RPMs quite a few times this spring in training. Good breaking ball, 11-5 shape on that. His best pitch may be his changeup,” said James. “But the thing that people are going to find out that they love about Brandon in Toronto is what a great teammate he is. Everywhere he’s ever been, he’s a team-first guy, he’s a program-first guy, wants to do whatever it takes to win and he celebrates his teammates just as much as he enjoys his own success.”
In that way, he’ll fit right into the culture the Blue Jays are trying to sustain, with a chance to boost the cadre of young arms the team has at double-A New Hampshire and single-A Vancouver.
Like Ricky Tiedemann, who has emerged as the club’s top pitching prospect, Barriera is comfortable throwing any of his pitches at any time, with a “bulldog on attack” mindset on the mound.
“I’m not going to take anything off just because you’re the ninth-hole hitter, or if you’re 0-for-3 with three strikeouts – I’m still going to go at you the same way,” he said. “At the end of the day, in a way, I want to make the hitters look silly. That’s pretty much what my mentality is out there.”
While Barriera focused on Pettitte when he was young, in recent years he’s locked in more on Luis Severino, the electric right-hander who “is not the biggest guy on the field, but he plays big, his stuff plays big, and he goes out there with a lot of emotion and plays with a lot of energy.”
That admiration for Severino and the Yankees will have to change, something that donned on him as he sported a crisp, new white Blue Jays jersey over his suit and blue cap on his head.
“Oh yeah,” said Barriera. “I’m 100 per cent Blue Jays now.”