'I take hacks': Meet Addison Barger, the Blue Jays' new slugger

April 25th, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- Bigger, faster, stronger, Barger.

hit the Blue Jays like a 12-pack of Red Bull on Wednesday in Kansas City, jittering with life, fresh off 20 minutes of sleep and running on “adrenaline and caffeine”.

The Blue Jays’ No. 6 prospect got the call just before midnight Tuesday, learning he was going to the big leagues to make his MLB debut six years after being drafted by the Blue Jays out of high school. So much about Barger has changed since then, but there’s one area of growth you can’t miss.

“Biceps,” said a grinning John Schneider, without hesitation, prior to the Blue Jays’ 3-2 loss to the Royals.

Barger’s shirts struggle to contain his arms. Call him Addison Barbells.

Everything about Barger’s game is big and bold. He’s all energy, bringing back memories of Brett Lawrie’s early days with the Blue Jays, and he’s learned to channel that energy over the years. Barger doesn’t shy away from who he is, though.

Barger doesn’t want to slap a single to left field. If that happens, it happens, but he’s at the plate to hit baseballs to Jupiter. He just has to take a deep breath first.

“It’s all about calming myself down,” Barger said. “If I don’t calm myself down, I’ll look like a mad man. I’m aggressive. I take hacks,” Barger said. “That’s just my nature. It’s hard for me to tame it sometimes.”

Addison Barger making his MLB debut at Kauffman Stadium on April 24.

Schneider calls the swing “controlled violence,” which captures it perfectly.

We almost saw it work. Barger went 0-for-4, but launched a 397-foot shot to the edge of the warning track in his first at-bat that looked like it had a chance.

“I was always undersized, so being an undersized guy, I felt like I had to make up for it with bigger moves and bigger swings,” Barger said. “Then, I grew into my body, I got bigger and stronger. I had to learn to trust that more and more. It’s been a work in progress, but it’s been good.”

It’s working.

Just over a year ago, Barger was one of the darlings of Spring Training and shot up prospects lists, but ran into an elbow injury early in the season and never quite found his groove. He’s played his best baseball to open 2024, though, batting .314 with a 1.021 OPS over 19 games in Buffalo’s stacked Triple-A lineup. He’s driven in 21 runs and walked 14 times. Absolutely everything was working for Barger there.

There will always be holes for opposing pitchers to attack in a swing as big and aggressive as Barger’s, but again, he knows who he is.

“The biggest growth has been him as a hitter,” Schneider said. “He’s done a great job of physically developing, obviously, but it’s about him understanding his swing and him getting better defensively. He can hit the ball really hard and really far, but I think he’s developed his overall game. Being more versatile defensively, understanding what to do on the bases, that’s where he grew last year.”

The big surprise Wednesday was Barger’s position. His name appeared on the lineup card in left field, a position he hasn’t played a single professional inning at.

On the first ball hit to Barger, it showed. Kyle Isbel lofted a routine fly ball to left in the second inning and Barger took a few steps in, realized his mistake, and corkscrewed backwards, trying to make the over-the-shoulder catch. The ball fell in for a double and an error, and two pitches later, that runner was driven in. To Barger’s credit, he made a leaping catch at the wall in the next frame on a ball that was being yanked around by the wind.

Welcome to the big leagues at your brand new position.

Barger came up playing primarily on the left side of the infield and has since adopted right field rather well. He has some of the best arm strength in the organization -- we’re talking about throwing this time -- and he can improve the accuracy on his throws, Barger could easily become one of the strongest outfield arms in the big leagues.

“He’s a baseball player,” Schneider said. “His at-bats have been really good. He’s driving in runs. He’s hitting the ball hard. It’s what he hoped he’d be doing down there. He’s playing good defense, too.”

Eventually, some of Barger’s rockets will find a hole … or a wall to clear. Wednesday’s loss was an uneven introduction, but it looks like Barger is going to get a real shot here to prove that his big, bold game belongs.