Last year there were 20 players in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system who received more than 423 plate appearances during the season. This doesn’t include players like Gregory Polanco, who went on to top that number when you include his time in the majors. It also doesn’t include guys like Chris Dickerson, who had more than 423 plate appearances in the season when you count their time with other organizations.
So why is 423 significant?
That’s the number of plate appearances that Barrett Barnes has had in his career. Barnes was drafted out of college as a first round compensation pick in the 2012 draft, taken with the pick the Pirates received for losing Ryan Doumit. He signed quickly after the draft, receiving a $1,000,000 bonus. And in the two and a half years since signing, he has barely put up a full season of plate appearances in pro ball.
The reason for this has been an onslaught of injuries. His debut in 2012 was cut short due to a stress fracture in his leg at the end of July, putting him out for the final month of the season. He dealt with back stiffness in Spring Training in 2013, which delayed his debut until the end of April. His debut was short-lived, as he went down with a right hamstring injury in May. He was out for the year after straining the same hamstring in mid-July.
The 2014 season was similar to the 2013 season. In the fourth game of the year at West Virginia, he injured his hamstring running to first base. He didn’t return until mid-July, and was pushed up to Bradenton to advance his career, even though he only had 50 games in West Virginia. The promotion to Bradenton didn’t last long, as he went down with an oblique strain after six games, and was out for the year.
Barnes has a lot of potential. He’s got a lot of bat speed, and is able to generate some power. He can play center field due to his range, but his lack of arm strength probably limits him to a future in left field. The biggest issue is that he has never been on the field long enough to develop his game.
This off-season, Barnes took steps to try to prevent his injury problems. He cut down on his off-season workload, and just focused on taking better care of his body. He said coming into camp that he’s feeling better than he has for a long time, although offered up the obvious disclaimer that we would have to see how it plays out during the season.
“The workload and the training regimen, everything has to be done differently,” Barnes said of the changes. “Because obviously the things we were doing in the past weren’t successful for the business that we’re in. Everything has been flipped upside down right now for me. But if you don’t make drastic changes, you can’t get drastic results. And I need something drastic right now.”
Barnes will return to Bradenton for his age 23 season. He turns 24 at the end of July. That’s not drastically old for a player in High-A to be considered a prospect. But he definitely needs something drastic right now, and will need to finish in Altoona by the end of the year — preferably in the second half — to save his prospect status. In order to do that, he’s going to need to stay on the field long enough to actually get some development time.
“I think everyone in the organization is waiting for me to get some development time,” Barnes said with a laugh. “I was an investment a few years ago, and am still an investment. And I also have dreams and aspirations to play in the big leagues, and that holds me back. It holds them back from making me advance up the stages, and getting ready for Pittsburgh. So I think we’re all waiting to see what it all pans out in the full season, because we don’t know.”
Barnes is going to be in a talented outfield in Bradenton, joined by Austin Meadows and Harold Ramirez. All three are center fielders, and all three received seven-figure bonuses. Meadows figures to get the bulk of the playing time in center, but Ramirez and Barnes could also factor into the mix.
“If you look at it with me, Meadows, and Harold Ramirez, those are three big investments that play center field,” Barnes said. “So you’re not going to sit somebody for somebody else, considering we’re all pretty young and developing. That’s going to be an upstairs decision, but I assume there’s going to be some sort of rotation to get us all acclimated to all three positions.”
The position Barnes plays won’t be that big of a deal. The biggest deal will be keeping him healthy, and allowing his bat to finally develop. At this point, the Pirates have enough outfield talent in the majors and the minors that any production from Barnes would be a bonus. But he’s still a guy who has the raw talent to make it to the majors, even with so many injuries in his past.
“Everyone is just trying to play and make it somewhere,” Barnes said. “Everyone has the same goal, to play in the big leagues. How you get there, whatever position you’re at — at the end of it you don’t really care about that.”