By: Brian Frank
Every player’s Triple-A debut is an event they’ll never forget. After climbing their way through a team’s system, it’s always special to reach the top rung of the minor leagues. Newest Bison Addison Barger made sure his Bisons debut would be an unforgettable experience not only for himself, but for every fan in the ballpark.
Barger, currently the Blue Jays thirteenth ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline, has risen quickly through Toronto’s system. The left-handed hitting infielder was drafted by the Blue Jays in the sixth round of the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft.
Barger had an unforgettable Bisons debut. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
“It wasn’t where I wanted to go in the draft necessarily but I think everybody thinks that way on draft day,” he said in a recent interview with The Herd Chronicles. “It’s a stressful day but definitely a relief knowing that I’m going to play pro ball. That’s a dream come true. That was huge.”
Barger played for the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays in 2018 and the Bluefield Blue Jays in 2019 as he adjusted to the professional game.
“It’s a big jump from high school,” he said. “It’s pretty tough just getting used to pro-ball pitching. It definitely takes some time, takes a lot of AB’s to adjust. There’s no real big adjustments that you have to make other than just getting the experience. Experience is huge.”
He made the most out of the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, by working out and adding muscle.
“At my parents’ house they have a baseball field – a full-size infield and a cage – in their backyard,” he said. “So I just did my baseball there every day. It was a good opportunity to get really physical and work out a lot. I gained something like 45 pounds during that time. So that was huge for me.”
Barger spent the bulk of the 2021 season at Low-A Dunedin, where he slashed .249/.334/.492 with 18 home runs and 80 RBIs in 91 games.
“That was my first full season, so it was a big adjustment to be playing every day and playing 100 and something games,” he said. “So that was a test physically to stay ready every single day and stay healthy. Obviously in Florida it was super hot most of the time so it was tough – but it was a god time. It was a grind.”
In a game in late May that season against Tampa, Barger hit for the cycle, finishing 5-for-5 with two home runs.
“That was one of those games where you’re locked in and everything’s going right,” he smiled. “That was sick. That was another level for me. I don’t know what was different for me that day but I was hitting everything and ended up hitting for the cycle.”
“First AB – triple, second AB – double, and then I homered. So I just needed a single. Then I hit another homer. So I had two homers, but I still needed a single. I got a fifth at bat in the ninth and it was a line drive up the middle for a single.“
Barger has a .932 OPS at three minor-league levels this season. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
This season, Barger has rocketed through the Blue Jays system. He began the season at High-A Vancouver, slashing .300/.366/.558 with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs in 69 games. He was then promoted to Double-A New Hampshire in July, where he continued to hit well, slashing .313/.384/.528 with 9 home runs and 29 RBIs in 47 games.
“I think a big part of it is just my mental approach,” he said of his breakout success this season. “Trying to play care free and be relaxed at the plate. That’s been huge for me. I play with some energy, so just trying to calm that down at the plate is huge. You make better swing decisions.”
“I’ve always been so tense at the plate. It doesn’t sound like much but it was really important for me just to relax, trust myself, be able to hit off-speed a little more, and things like that.”
Following the Fisher Cats final game last Sunday, Barger was summoned to manager Cesar Martin’s office and informed his season would continue because he was being promoted to Triple-A. Barger arrived in Buffalo Monday afternoon and was in the Bisons starting lineup on Tuesday night, batting second and playing shortstop.
He immediately showed Bisons fans the kind of play they can expect from him when he came to the plate for his first Triple-A at bat in the first inning. He hit a hard shot down the first-base line that Red Wings first baseman John Nogowski made a diving stop on and fired to pitcher Joan Non covering first. Non just beat a diving Barger to the bag, robbing him of his first Triple-A hit.
“I just wanted to get the first hit out of the way,” he said. “So I was trying to do everything I could to get there.”
Barger also made some spectacular plays in the field in his debut with the Herd. He dove to his left to field Andrew Stevenson’s groundball before firing to first to end the third inning and made a diving catch to rob Jack Dunn of a hit to close out the seventh inning.
“I‘m just trying to go out there and play as hard as I can every day,” he said of his diving plays. ”That’s just what I’m trying to do.”
“I’m somebody who’s going to give it their all every day and do everything possible to win the game. That’s pretty much it. I’m going to work my butt off and play as hard as I can every single day.”
The Bisons struggled at the plate throughout the game, but were able to tie the score in the bottom of the ninth inning on an LJ Talley solo home run that just hit the right-field foul pole. After the Red Wings failed to score in the top of the tenth, the Bisons loaded the bases with one out.
Barger stepped to the plate looking to drive home the winning run in his first-ever Triple-A game.
“Get something to drive in the air and get that runner home is the main thing,” he said of his approach to the at bat. “Just making contact. I got in a good hitters count, he came after me, and I wasn’t going to miss it.”
Barger lined a 3-1 pitch into right field to bring home the winning run as his new teammates mobbed him on the field.
“That was pretty sick,” Barger smiled. “It was pretty surreal. Being my first Triple-A hit in my first Triple-A game – and being the guy to win it.”
Barger's walk-off hit in his Bisons debut.
He made an immediate impression on his new manager Jeff Ware.
“Two good, hard hit balls, especially the last one that won the game for us – huge,” Ware said after the game. “Two great diving plays in the field. Tremendous. It was the first time I really saw him play. Just to see him come out here and hustle down the line in his first at bat – slides into first, goes hard. He plays the game the right way. Plays really hard. We’re happy to have him here for sure.”
Barger has continued to impress in his short time in Buffalo, getting two hits in his second game, before belting two home runs in his third game with the Herd. Combining his statistics from the three levels he’s played at this year, he’s slashing .308/.378/.554 with 25 home runs and 87 RBIs.
The Bisons season ends after their game on Wednesday in Scranton. However, Barger’s season will continue. He’ll fly out the next day along with fellow Bison Tanner Morris and coach Jake McGuiggan to represent the Blue Jays organization in the Arizona Fall League.
“It’s a huge honor,” Barger said of being chosen by the organization to play in the prospect laden AFL. “It’s a great opportunity and you need to take that and go have some fun.”
Barger will play in the Arizona Fall League this offseason. Photo Credit, Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles