No. 2 prospect Barriera shows upside, polish in pro debut

May 7th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- Brandon Barriera’s debut was worth the wait.

Toronto’s first-round pick in the 2022 MLB Draft made his first pro appearance on Wednesday with Single-A Dunedin, throwing four scoreless innings with six strikeouts. The 19-year-old Barriera showed the exact mix of upside and polish that made him one of the most unique high-school arms in his Draft class a year ago.

Confidence will never be a problem, either.

“Looking at those 22 teams before me, they're going to regret this,” Barriera, Toronto’s No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, said on Draft night.

Barriera has all of the building blocks needed. From here, it’s up to the Blue Jays’ player development staff, and they have the perfect blueprint to follow after their success with No. 1 prospect Ricky Tiedemann.

“It’s good to have a model up front,” director of player development Joe Sclafani said in Spring Training. “We tried different things with Ricky and it worked. That’s nice, but it could have gone the other way, so we’re still learning as we go and trying to refine that process. I think it helps us reinforce the message on what’s important for these young guys and what you need to do.”

It’s not an exact science, of course. But it’s a start. One tactic the Blue Jays used with Tiedemann was a one-month stint on the “Development List,” when they took him back to the club’s complex in Dunedin, Fla. This allowed the club to fine-tune some things, while also managing his workload, which they’ll need to do with Barriera.

“With our job, the performance and the stuff may be outstanding, but if they’re not taking care of their routines or taking care of their stuff in the weight room and training room, we’ll hold them back a little bit and see if we can refine that,” Sclafani said. “We want to make them their own best coach. That way, we don’t have to hold their hand all the way up there. It’s a blueprint, but in the long grind of a first full season, you learn a lot of things about yourself.”

Here’s a look at some of the other development success stories at each level of the Blue Jays’ system:

Triple-A Buffalo: UTIL Davis Schneider
From 2017-21, Schneider was a supporting actor. He produced, putting up some especially impressive on-base percentages, but he was never a priority. Schneider played the positions that were available, but lineups and rosters weren’t built around him.

That’s changed, and he’s earned every bit of it.

The Blue Jays’ No. 28 prospect, Schneider broke out in 2022 with 16 home runs and an .823 OPS, climbing three levels to reach Triple-A. That’s where he opened his '23, batting .244 with four homers and an .819 OPS a month in. Once an afterthought, Schneider is a favorite within the organization, and he has a legitimate path to the big leagues as a utility man.

Double-A New Hampshire: RHP Hagen Danner
Drafted as a catcher, Danner could never truly make it work behind the plate. The No. 22 prospect hit .191 over three seasons, and in 2021, he made the transition back to pitching, which he did at a high level in high school.

The early results were extremely encouraging, and while a lat injury slowed Danner last year, he’s now back in Double-A with a clear path to Triple-A soon if he pitches well. With an excellent slider and high-90s fastball, Danner and the Blue Jays have found some very nice value in this rebrand.

High-A Vancouver Canadians: RHP T.J. Brock
Speaking with Minor League coaches or player development staff, I always make a point of asking which players they think should be a bigger part of the conversation. Brock’s name came up a few different times, and for good reason. A sixth-round pick in the 2022 MLB Draft out of Ohio State, Brock has one of the best sliders in the organization, along with a high-90s fastball. He owns a 2.79 ERA this season, already striking out 18 hitters over 9 2/3 innings. Currently outside the Blue Jays’ Top 30 Prospects list, he could move up quickly.

Single-A Dunedin: SS/2B Manuel Beltre
Beltre was an unusual projection as a 16-year-old signing for $2.35 million in 2021, because his maturity and instincts outweighed his raw physical tools. It’s typically the complete opposite.

Since then, though, Beltre has added some size, and he is driving the ball more consistently. A popular pick to break out this season, the No. 20 prospect recently returned after a couple of weeks on the IL, and he has been hitting well. It’s early, but Beltre is one of the most interesting names to track through this system over the coming two or three years.