Initially Influenced by Ichiro, Addison Barger Is Hitting His Way to Toronto

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Addison Barger put up the best numbers of any hitter in the Toronto Blue Jays system this season, and he did so with a hitting style that was initially influenced by Ichiro Suzuki.

“I’m naturally a right-handed hitter, and actually switch-hit throughout high school,” explained Barger, who now hits exclusively from the left side. “At the time I started hitting left-handed, around 10 years old, I was obsessed with Japanese players and the Japanese style of hitting. A big leg kick was part of that, and it’s something I mimicked. It just stuck with me.”

That’s not to suggest the 22-year-old infielder profiles similarly to the Japanese icon and erstwhile Seattle Mariner that he grew up watching in Bellevue, Washington. That aforementioned big leg kick is one point of difference; while more pronounced during his NPB days and at times early in his MLB career, Ichiro’s was never as high as the one Barger currently employs. And Barger is no Ichiro-like slasher. The future Hall of Famer had a swing designed to slash line drives into the opposite-field gap. Barger’s M.O. is now the inverse. Indeed, as evidenced by the 26 home runs he hit across three levels, Barger is a basher.

“I’m a pretty pull-heavy hitter,” said Barger prior to a recent Arizona Fall League game. “My goal is to hit the ball over the wall. I want to do damage. If it’s to right field, it’s to right field, and if it’s to left field, it’s to left field. But when I’m having success, I’m usually pulling a lot of balls.”

His overall body of work this year was eye-opening. In 526 plate plate appearances split between High-A Vancouver, Double-A New Hampshire, and Triple-A Buffalo, Barger totaled 61 extra-base hits while logging a .308/.378/.555 slash line and a 152 wRC+. Improved physicality and a willingness to invest in his future each played a big part in his emergence as one of Toronto’s most promising prospects.

“A lot of work has gone into it,” Barger said. “I’ve gone from a guy who was 155-160 pounds at 18-19 years old to a guy who is 215 pounds. I’m actually closer to 200 right now — it’s been a long season and I’m a little depleted — but I’m a lot bigger and stronger than I was a few years ago.”

He’s also a hitter who has improved his plate discipline and contact rate. While he found his 2021 power production — 18 home runs in 374 Low-A plate appearances — satisfactory, his chase rate and tendency to swing and miss were another story. That’s where investing in his future came into play.

“I knew that I needed to work on that part of my game, so last offseason I went out and bought an iPitch,” said Barger, who is currently playing for the AFL’s Salt River Rafters. “If you’re not familiar with those, it’s a machine that throws all kinds of pitches. You can program in a pitcher and be very specific with pitch types, pitch shapes — things that you can’t do with your standard Hack Attack. I did a whole lot of work with the iPitch, and it’s definitely a big reason I had more success this year.”

His swing and setup remained the same, although the latter changed over the course of the 2020 pandemic-canceled campaign. Barger had previously employed a wide stance, but in want of “something that would buy me more time with my leg kick,” he came into the 2021 season with a narrower base.

Toronto’s hitting coaches and coordinators have been keeping a close watch on the youngster’s mechanics, helping ensure that he’s being efficient when turning on pitches. Barger admits a tendency to “cast a little bit,” which necessitates the occasional need to tighten up his stroke. More often than not, that adjustment comes at the request of his mentors. Barger professes to rarely think about mechanics — “I really don’t even talk about them during the offseason” — preferring instead to do what come naturally, and work solely on his strength and his bat speed.

His arm strength is his best attribute defensively. A shortstop who also sees time at third base, Barger pitched in high school and was “up to 95 [mph]” in his senior year. But he’s never envisioned himself on a big-league mound. “That’s never been a goal,” said Barger. “I’ve always wanted to hit.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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1 year ago

very small sample, but he was crusing in AAA at the end of the year – cut his k% in half and added 5% to his walk rate, all with a 193 wrc+. definitely excited to see an in-depth write-up on him in the future from the prospect guys here.