For a few seconds, the baseball seemed to be transformed into a missile. It cut through the afternoon central Florida air before landing out on the concourse in Bradenton, where the visiting Toronto Blue Jays were playing their Spring Training opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was a no-doubt home run from the moment it left the bat.
It wasn’t the home run hit earlier in the game by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. This one was hit by Blue Jays prospect Addison Barger, and it reflected the power and potential that has the 23-year-old on the cusp of cracking the big-league roster just a year after being in Single-A.
Barger’s drive off the Pirates’ All-Star closer David Bednar last Saturday came off his bat at 105.4 mph. It was a testament to how much Barger, who was just 150 pounds when the Blue Jays drafted him in the sixth round out of a Tampa high school in 2018, has grown up and come of age. Barger was a line-drive hitter, more focused on putting the ball in play than hitting it out of the bulk. As the minor leagues were shut down during the pandemic year of 2020, he realized he needed to become bigger and stronger to advance up the ranks of the organization.
Barger bulked up to 210 pounds and began to show his power in 2021, hitting 18 homers in the minors. He homered 26 times in 124 games across three minor league levels last season. His .912 OPS in Double-A was 10th in the Eastern League after he spent the first half of the year in Single-A. He enjoyed a September promotion to Triple-A and wasn’t fazed at all by the step up in competition, hitting three homers in just eight games while batting .355 with a 1.122 OPS.
Barger's power from the left side could be too much for the Blue Jays to resist. He was added to the 40-man roster during the offseason, bringing him one step closer to making the Majors. He has a few things working in his favour. He’s a versatile defender, playing every infield position in the minors. He split time between third base and shortstop in 2022 and has even experimented in the outfield so far in Spring Training.
There is the growth and maturity Barger has shown as he’s worked to develop his game. While he was hitting all those home runs in 2021, Barger was also striking out in 33 percent of his plate appearances. He cut that rate down to 25 percent last season. He’s yet to strike out in three games so far in Spring Training.
The Blue Jays have a loaded roster and legitimate World Series aspirations. There’s little room for a rookie to learn on the job. Barger’s role on the team would necessarily be limited to spot starts and pinch-hit opportunities, not exactly the formula for getting the most development out of your prized prospects. The Blue Jays' experience with Guerrero and Bo Bichette shows they won’t be in a rush to bring their young players up to the big-league roster.
But if Barger doesn’t crack the 26-man team out of Spring Training, his time isn’t that far off. “I’m not worried about it by any means. I’ll get there when I get there. Hopefully, sooner than later,” he told The Athletic's Kaitlyn McGrath earlier in Spring Training.
More stunning flashes of power like he’s shown already in Spring Training might accelerate that timeframe until Barger is in a Blue Jays uniform full-time. He’s proved it won’t be long.