Red Sox pitching prospect Matt Barnes is off to a running start to his professional baseball career.
Selected with Boston’s first pick in last June’s MLB Amateur Draft, Barnes was sent to the Greenville Drive of the class-A South Atlantic League to open the season. He made his professional debut on April 8th, pitching against the Lakewood Blue Claws at Greenville’s home park. Barnes was flat-out dominant, exceeding even the loftiest expectations. He tossed five sparkling innings of shutout baseball, striking out nine and allowing just two walks and two base hits. He cut through Lakewood’s batting order like butter, retiring the first seven batters he faced before allowing a bunt single to Carlos Perdomo in the third inning.
On Friday, Barnes encored with a truly spectacular performance. Facing off against the West Virginia Power, the twenty-one-year-old hurler retired fifteen of the sixteen batters he faced, striking out seven while shutting out the Power on no walks and just one hit. After allowing a first-inning double, he was perfect for the next four and two-thirds innings. Through two starts, he’s allowed a single hit to a left-handed hitter, while striking out twelve of the seventeen he’s faced.
Barnes credits his early success to his approach as well as the work he put in with Red Sox coaches in the offseason. Though he didn’t throw a pitch in a regular season game following the draft, his rigorous workout routine and dedication to his craft left him well prepared for his pro debut. His fastball and breaking ball show great life, and his fluid mechanics allow him to pound the each edge of the strikezone with quality stuff. He’s also working well with catcher Blake Swihart.
Swihart was drafted out of Sue V. Cleveland high school (New Mexico) with the 26th overall pick last June, just six slots behind Barnes. The Red Sox should be pleased that Swihart–who recently celebrated his 20th birthday– is establishing a strong rapport with Barnes and the other pitchers on Greenville’s talented young staff.
Undrafted out of Bethel High School in Connecticut, Barnes was the first of four picks the Red Sox had in the first round of the 2011 Draft. As a high school senior, Barnes earned All-State and All-Conference nods but was largely snubbed by recruiters. He elected to attend UCONN, his own state school, and ended up playing a large part in the program’s emergence as one of college baseball’s contenders. Playing for an up-and-coming Huskies club, led by coach Jim Penders, Barnes teamed up with other future pro prospects George Springer, Mike Olt, Nick Ahmed, Greg Nappo, Mike Nemeth and Pierre LePage. After helping the team set their single-season wins record in 2010, Barnes led the Huskies to their first Super Regional in 2011 and took home honors as an All-American and the Big East Pitcher of the Year in 2011.
Primarily a mid-week starter and long reliever as a sophomore, Barnes’ matured and took his game to a higher level in his final two seasons at UCONN. After a stellar junior campaign, Barnes’ fastball velocity jumped from the 90ish mph range to sitting consistently between 92-96 mph as a senior. He earned a spot on Team USA’s roster and was named an All-American along with teammate George Springer, who’s also a native of Connecticut. He drew the attention of (then) Red Sox GM Theo Epstein while out-pitching most of the nation’s top arms en route to the Big East pitching Triple Crown. Epstein attended many of Barnes’ home games and clearly recognized the righthander’s superb potential.
So far, Barnes not only looks the part, but has pitched like a future star. Blessed with a near-ideal pitcher’s frame and solid athleticism, Barnes has both the physical and mental tools to succeed. His four-seam fastball sits firmly in the mid 90′s while his heavy, running 2-seamer shows excellent late life. He pitches off of his fastball well, and throws quality strikes. He continues to domnate left-handed batters, jamming them with premium heat and his nasty cutter and baffling them with a disappearing changeup. His impressive poise and feel for pitching is also evident early on, exuding confidence in any count and against more seasoned professional hitters. Right-handed hitters have had serious trouble squaring up his slider and two-seamer, elevating a flyball just once in 14 at bats.
Barnes isn’t the only top pitching prospect in the South Atlantic League this Spring, his teammate Henry Owens, the Orioles’ Dylan Bundy, the Yankees’ Jose Campos, the Nationals’ Alex Meyer, the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez and the Rangers’ Luke Jackson all have plenty of starpower as well.