Southpaws Tiedemann, Barriera on rise for Blue Jays
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays were the benefactors of one of the most impressive breakout performances of the 2022 season. Ricky Tiedemann went from being a 2021 third-round pick to the No. 2 left-handed pitching prospect in baseball after posting a 2.17 ERA with 117 strikeouts in 78 2/3 innings across Single-A, High-A and Double-A.
It just so happens that Toronto picked up another gifted southpaw in the 2022 Draft, this time taking Brandon Barriera (now its No. 2 prospect behind Tiedemann) at 23rd overall.
It’s tempting to look at two left-handers in the same system who can touch the upper-90s and show promising sliders and changeups and think the Blue Jays should use the same playbook with both. It isn’t quite that simple. It never is in player development.
“Every case is unique and independent,” reminds Blue Jays director of player development Joe Sclafani.
In Tiedemann’s situation, the 6-foot-4 hurler started sitting around 95-96 mph with his fastball heading into his first spring last year. To keep him from overthrowing in his first full season, the Blue Jays limited him to five-inning outings with Single-A Dunedin and High-A Vancouver before shipping him back to Florida for non-game work at the complex in early July after the All-Star Futures Game. He jumped up to Double-A New Hampshire but still didn’t last more than three frames per start.
In all, Tiedemann didn’t see the sixth inning in any of his 18 Minor League starts, nor did he throw more than 84 pitches in an outing. That preservation of his workload might have played a strong role in keeping his dominance going throughout the summer.
“All the credit goes for the way Ricky did everything,” Sclafani said. “He bought in immediately. We feel good about the way we mapped it out, what the goals were, and he killed everything, every piece of it."
There is one big difference between the two lefties; Tiedemann was a junior-college pick while Barriera hailed from the high-school ranks. That one level may seem minuscule in the grand scheme but can affect just how carefully managed an innings or pitch limit is in the first full season. To his credit, Barriera has spent much of the offseason at the Dunedin complex, putting on weight and gearing up for the year to come.
Even if the plan differs slightly, it’s a lot easier to get player buy-in when you have a success story like Tiedemann’s in the bag.
“How we get there might look differently, whether it’s shorter stints up early on or maybe we back off midway through the year,” Sclafani said. “There are a lot of different routes this could take. But having a Ricky to point to, it doesn’t hurt.”
Camp standout: Addison Barger
No. 6 prospect Addison Barger was already coming off a breakout 2022 season in which he hit .308/.378/.555 with 26 homers over 124 games across the Minors’ top three levels, then he topped it off with an impressive Arizona Fall League. That got him added to the 40-man roster when he was Rule 5 Draft-eligible in November, and Blue Jays coaches on the Major League side were prepared to keep a keen interest in his spring progress.
The left-handed slugger hasn’t wasted time in 2023, continually showing off his plus raw power (stemming from a large leg kick he models off Ichiro’s) in BP sessions and taking that pop into games. He homered off Pirates closer David Bednar in his Spring Training debut on Feb. 25, pulling the ball down the right-field line with a 105.4 mph exit velocity.
Barger has primarily played third and short this spring, but the Blue Jays have said he could get looks in the outfield to get his bat in a Major League lineup.
“All the tools are there for that kid,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. “He has a really good idea of what he’s doing at the plate.”
Something to prove: Orelvis Martinez
Toronto pushed Orelvis Martinez aggressively to Double-A New Hampshire for his age-20 season. The good: he set a Fisher Cats single-season record with 30 homers. The bad: he hit just .203 with a .286 OBP, both of which ranked in the bottom seven of the Eastern League, and struck out 28.5 percent of the time.
It’s a tantalizing, if frustrating, mix of a young prospect who has power that plays with an approach that wasn’t up to snuff for the Minors’ second-highest level. Martinez, who plays both short and third, was still protected from the Rule 5 Draft in November with a 40-man spot, and although Minor Leaguers are far from set, he seems like a lock to return to New Hampshire. A year’s worth of experience could help him find his footing as a 21-year-old, but if he doesn’t and he struggles against upper-level pitching again, his status as a Top 5 prospect in the system will be all the more tenuous.
“Going back and knowing that they're going to throw a ton of breaking balls, they're going to try to get him to chase, staying within himself, utilizing the whole field -- listening to him talk about it, those are the important parts,” Sclafani said. “He got a little homer-happy last year, but he has a special juice, where he doesn't have to try to generate that. I think we’re excited to see him hopefully take some steps forward in that area.”
Breakout candidate: Rainer Nunez
Anyone who watched the Florida State League in 2022 knows Rainer Nunez hits the ball hard. The right-handed-hitting first baseman had Single-A Dunedin’s five-highest exit velocities measured by Statcast and maxed out at 114.3 mph. Only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a ball harder for the Major League club in 2022 (though he hit 18 such balls). Nunez’s 19 homers between Single-A and High-A Vancouver backed up that power, as did his .484 slugging percentage and 130 wRC+ on the year.
So what did Nunez do for an encore? He was named the LIDOM Rookie of the Year in the offseason after hitting .263/.303/.445 with seven dingers in 37 games for Las Estrellas Orientales. Getting even more quality at-bats back home helped the Dominican Republic native carry a ton of momentum into the spring.
“It was only supposed to be for a little bit so we could get him a little extra work, but he played so well that he got the Rookie of the Year,” Sclafani said. “Credit to him, he put in the work that he needed to, and he’s shown up looking like a man amongst boys.”