Texas Tech's Barrett Barnes Shows Plenty Of Bat Speed
HOUSTON—Barrett Barnes left his mark at the Houston College Classic—figuratively and perhaps literally as well.
After Barnes turned around a 96 mph fastball from Arkansas flamethrower Ryne Stanek for the hardest single you'll ever see, a couple of scouts expressed concern for the well being of the left-field wall at Minute Maid Park. Barnes had no choice but to stop at first after his rocket off the wall, but not because he lacks speed or hustle. It was just hit that hard.
The next night against Rice, Barnes made it clear that he can run, too (Texas Tech coach Dan Spencer says he can run the 60-yard dash in 6.5 seconds). After ripping an RBI single to left in the first inning, Barnes proceeded to steal second and third base before scoring on a sacrifice fly.
"He came out aggressive, stealing second and third—he really jumped out to me," a National League area scout said.
Barnes, a savvy baserunner who has 39 steals in 44 career attempts, might have the best blend of power and speed of any college player in the 2012 draft class. That tool set, combined with his continuing maturation as a hitter and his emergence as a quality defensive center fielder, gives Barnes a chance to rocket up draft boards as fast as one of the line drives that regularly come screaming of his barrel.
"His hands are lightning, they really are," said Jeff Trundy, Barnes' coach at Falmouth in the Cape Cod League over the last two summers.
Righthanded bat speed is Barnes' calling card, but scouts expressed concerns last summer that Barnes' lower half was too narrow and he did not stay back long enough, causing him to spin off breaking balls. Because Barnes has experienced significant success since the outset of his collegiate career, it took him some time to buy into the need to make significant adjustments to his swing. Barnes has hit in the No. 3 hole at Texas Tech since his first game as a freshman (when he hit two homers and drove in six against Jacksonville State), hitting .341/.465/.641 with 14 homers in 2010 and .290/.414/.509 with 10 homers in 2011.
"I've considered my swing my son, my first child," Barnes said. "I've built it up from the ground up, from being in the back yard, from hitting pecans with a broom stick with my dad when I was two years old. You just work on it piece by piece.
"This year my big mechanical thing is using my lower half, giving me a better opportunity to hit for more power, see more pitches, not be so jumpy. Last year that was a big knock on me, that I didn't use my lower half at all, I relied too much on my hands. I understand it, but at the same time I couldn't get away from it because I was successful doing it, and no one wants to step away from success. But I sat down one day and realized that if I want to be successful at the next level, I have to make the adjustment. I have to continue to work on stuff to stay ahead of the curve."
So far, the adjustment has paid off. Barnes is making use of a sturdier base, staying back longer and increasingly driving the ball the other way with authority. Through 15 games, he was hitting .357/.455/.607 with three homers and 14 RBIs—all team bests except for his on-base percentage, which was second-best on the team. For a power hitter, Barnes has always posted solid walk-strikeout numbers; he entered the season with 81 walks in 107 strikeouts over his first two seasons, and he had nine walks and 10 strikeouts through 56 at-bats as a junior.
Barnes' plate approach has improved by leaps and bounds since his days at Fort Bend Austin High near Houston, when Spencer remembers recruiting him as a power-hitting shortstop who swung and missed far too often against high school pitching.
"The tools, he brought with him—the bat speed and those things," Spencer said. "But he's just grown up. He's not 18 anymore. He understands the game, what's expected of him, and it's more than just hitting a homer or getting a hit. It's about playing defense and hitting the cutoff man, stealing a base when they walk you. He does a lot better job with pitch recognition, he handles the breaking ball. He doesn't need to cheat—he's figured that out. He's getting to the point where he understands he can hit the ball hard to right field."
Initially, the Red Raiders tried to keep Barnes on the infield dirt, and they played him at first base as a freshman because of the needs of the team. But Spencer said Barnes' "dart-thrower" arm action was ill suited for the infield, and his speed was an asset in center, so he made the position switch as a sophomore.
Arm strength is Barnes' lone below-average tool, though he has worked to improve it. The nephew of former major league pitcher Anthony Young, Barnes pitched until having elbow surgery to remove bone spurs in high school, leaving him with "a hollow elbow" and ending his pitching career.
Growing up around a former major league pitcher had other benefits for Barnes beyond getting pitching advice. Young is best remembered for losing 27 consecutive decisions with the Cubs and Mets in 1992-93, though he threw 13 quality starts during that stretch and posted a solid ERA. Drawing on his own experiences, Young helped Barnes develop a sense of perspective.
"He just had bad luck, bad bullpens, but he never blamed it on anyone else. He just took the blame for it and went out and pitched when his name came up, so you've got to respect him for that," Barnes said. "He never really pressured me baseball-wise. He supported me, he'd throw me batting practice when I came home, and we'd just hang out and talk about the past, talk about things he's been through, experiences he's had. You get a different viewpoint of the game at that level."
Spencer says Barnes is a hard worker who gets his swings in the batting cage and is focused on improving his game, but he doesn't let baseball define or consume him, perhaps because of the influence of his uncle and his father, Willie. Barnes' passion off the field is fishing, and he and his father have made fishing trips all over the world—from Alaska to the Caribbean to Cape Cod. This year they are planning a fishing trip to the Amazon, and Willie wants to make a trip to Thailand as well.
Even before playing a Saturday night game against Rice, Barnes started his day by spending four hours fishing with teammate Tim Proudfoot.
"It relaxes me, gets my mind away from the game," Barnes said. "A lot of people think we live, breathe and eat baseball, but you get burnt out of it after a while, to be honest. You can't overdo it. After the season is over, you just want to step away from it, take two weeks away from the game and let your mind relax."
That mental approach has helped Barnes learn to cope with adversity, which he said is the most important way he has grown during his time at Texas Tech. Barnes is laid-back and friendly, and Spencer half-jokes that "he probably didn't have his tail chewed until he got to Texas Tech." Barnes has been a great fit in the Red Raiders' clubhouse, in addition to being an anchor in the middle of their lineup and the middle of the diamond.
"I think he interacts well with everybody," Spencer said. "He hangs with a lot of different guys—he's not a clique-ish guy. He's a very sociable kid, very sociable around adults.
"So he's a fun guy to be around, and he's an exciting player."