Breakout Prospects: Hitters

Addison Barger. PHOTO BY BOB FRID /PNG

While pitching has been the name of the game so far this season in terms of development, there have been a handful of Blue Jays hitting prospects who have broken out and hold promise for the future.

1. Gabriel Martinez

The Florida State League player of the month for May had a torrid 31 days before suffering a wrist fracture.

A 2018 IFA, Martinez showed some promise with a .858 OPS in the Complex League last summer. After a slow start in April this year, he caught fire at the beginning of May, slashing .367/.404/.694 with 8 HRs.

Baseball America named Martinez the Blue Jays’ 30th top prospect prior to the season:

There’s projectable power in his frame and good barrel control. He shows above-average bat-to-ball skills, but his approach can get aggressive at times as he’s prone to expand the zone. He has enough bat-to-ball skills and power to get by with a certain level of chase, as he’s able to make contact with pitches on the fringes of the zone. He’s a corner outfield-only player with average defensive skills, and is most comfortable in left field. It’s a profile where he’ll have to hit but he has the baseline bat-to-ball skills and bat speed to make it work.

Dunedin Blue Jays hitting coach Matt Young on Martinez:

Gabby is just a pure hitter. Has a setup like Bo both early and with 2 strikes. Great bat to ball skills. Gap to gap doubles guy who is tapping into his power so far. Does a nice job of controlling the zone. Isn’t scared to hit with 2 strikes. Very competitive in the box.

FSL scouts have lauded his bat speed and ability to make contact (only a 16% K rate/11% whiff) despite his power. At 19, Martinez is just beginning to tap into that power. His injury has derailed his timeline, but it’s worth watching to see what he eventually does at the higher levels.

2. Addison Barger

If you have a look at the top offensive performers in the Northwest League, you’ll find the versatile Barger in the top 5 in most categories. He leads the league in hits, extra base hits, RBI, slugging, and is tied for the lead in Home Runs.

One of the strongest players in the system despite his relatively slight (6’0”/175) frame, Barger has hit some prodigious shots for the C’s this spring.

Barger was headed for college ball in 2018 when the Blue Jays talked him out of his commitment to Florida after taking him the 6th round. It’s taken a while for him to mature as a hitter, but he began to tap into his power last year, banging out 18 round trippers for Dunedin. He’s one of the more patient hitters in the system, but still could draw more walks. Initially drafted as a SS, Barger’s sole plus tool when he was drafted was his arm. He has sure hands, and has played all four infield positions over the course of his minor league career, although he’s played 3B/SS and DH for Vancouver this year. He’s a guy who appears destined for a second half promotion to AA.

For added reading….

Barger, as one might expect someone born in Washington state (his family moved to Florida when he was 6), is a huge Ichiro fan. And he’s a bit of a rarity for A ball – Barger has a wife and young daughter.

3. Rainer Nunez

A 2017 IFA, Nunez has busted out this year. He leads the FSL in RBI, is tied for the league lead in batting average, and is second in XBH, HR, and SLG. He’s slashed .314/.335/.519 to date, adding 13 long balls.

With long (6’3”) limbs and a high leg kick, Nunez can have trouble being on time with those long levers. Like Barger, better strike zone management would only help him in the long run – Nunez has only a 3% walk rate, and a 24% K. He gets good plate coverage, and can go oppo as well.

Originally signed as a SS, Nunez played 3B in 2018, and has been a 1B/DH ever since. His footwork around 1st (from an admittedly small viewing sample) looks to be a work in progress, and he really is more of a bat-first guy at this point. Vancouver fans have every reason to be excited about the C’s 2nd half chances, as Nunez should join the club at some point before long.

4. Damiano Palmegiani

There’s something extra special about a Canadian kid (born in Caracas, grew up in Surrey, BC) making some noise in the Blue Jays system.

Palmegiani started his collegiate career with Cal St Northridge in 2020, but transferred to JuCo power Southern Nevada the following year, where he put up video game numbers. Despite walking almost as many times as he struck out, scouts prior to last summer’s draft were wary about Palmegiani, as they felt he had some swing and miss to his game, hadn’t really faced premium velocity, and his defensive work left a lot to be desired. Despite being viewed as a risky pick, the Blue Jays selected him in the 14th round. Fast forward 11 months later, and Palmegiani has silenced many of those doubts.

Recently promoted to his hometown C’s, Palmegiani has broken out with a dozen round trippers for Dunedin, and one for Vancouver. He’s posted a .904 OPS in 59 Low A and 5 High A games.

Palmegiani has a compact, powerful swing that allows him to get his barrel out in front. He gets decent loft (48% FB rate), while making regular contact (10% SwStr). He homered in his first game at High A.

Matt Young, who had Palmegiani at Dunedin, said he was full measure for the move up the ladder to Vancouver:

He has outstanding strike zone discipline. Dom is willing to hit with 2 strikes and has shown success. Learning to jump in his pitch earlier in the count as well. He has doubles/HR pop. Very professional is his preparation and how he goes about his business. He can be pull happy at times, but knows where his hot zones are and attacks them. Dom does a nice job of learning why he is having success or failure. He really attacked his holes here in Dunedin and showed he was ready for the next challenge.

5. Samad Taylor

A guy who’s done everything the organization has asked of him, Taylor hasn’t broken out this year so much as he’s successfully followed up on last year’s breakout season.

Known more as a singles and doubles hitter prior to last season, Taylor went deep 16 times for New Hampshire in 2021. Asked to cut down the K’s and refine his two-strike approach this season, Taylor has responded:

What’s keeping Taylor from a big league job? For now, Cavan Biggio, and Taylor’s hitting from the right side appear to be the biggest obstacles. Taylor can get on base, and is tied for the International League lead in steals. A bit of a tweener defensively, Taylor perhaps brings slightly better skills at the keystone than does Biggio, but he really can’t play a multiple of positions – he played five for New Hampshire last year, but has split his time between only 2B and LF this season.


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