INTERVIEW: Red Sox Pitching Prospect Matt Barnes Looking To Make A Name For Himself In 2014
For Red Sox minor league pitching prospect Matt Barnes, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
The #38 ranked prospect in all of baseball according to MLB.com going into the 2013 season, the 23-year-old right-hander played his collegiate ball in his home state at the University of Connecticut.
“Playing at UCONN helped me transition to pro ball.” Barnes said. “I learned a mentality towards the game, a team aspect, and was able to develop a routine in the weight room.”
Barnes made 20 starts in his first two seasons as a Huskie in 2009-2010, going 13-6, but didn’t break out onto the scene until his junior season in 2011, when he won 11 games, posted an ERA of 1.93, and was named a First-Team All-American.
The dominating season, along with a fastball that reached the mid-to-upper 90′s, made him the 19th overall selection by the Boston Red Sox in the 2011 draft.
After signing late and throwing over 120 innings in his final season at UCONN, Barnes didn’t throw any professional innings in 2011, but the rest did wonders for him arm, and he made a mockery of minor league hitters in 2012.
“My arm was fresh and I didn’t feel like I’d thrown any innings” Barnes said. “It’s the best my baseball has come out during my career.”
In 119.2 innings pitching for Class A Greenville and High-A Salem, Barnes posted an ERA of 2.86, a K/9 of 10.0, and was named to the United States roster for the Futures’ Game, a remarkable accomplishment for a 21-year-old starting pitcher in his first professional season.
“I was able to get a lot of swings and misses off my fastball,” Barnes said of his high strikeout rate. “I was pitching down in the zone all year and getting ahead of a lot of hitters.”
Last season playing almost exclusively for Double-A Portland and in an obviously much tougher league, Barnes didn’t have the same scintillating numbers he’d had in 2012. Barnes posting a 4.13 ERA and a 3.8 BB/9 in 24 starts for the Sea Dogs.
Not that a higher ERA made Barnes any easier to hit. The former UCONN standout struck out an eye-popping 142 batters as a starter last year in just over 113 innings against tough Double-A competition.
“[The 2013 season] was interesting for me. There was a lot of highs and lows, ups and downs, and I wasn’t 100% comfortable with my secondary pitches, yet,” Barnes said. “That makes it difficult to stay consistent in a game setting.”
Barnes did finish his season on a high-note, however. Called up to Triple-A Pawtucket at the end of the year, he made one start for the team, pitching 5.1 scoreless innings, allowing only three hits, and striking out seven against hitters on the cusp of being on big league rosters.
The start did wonders for his confidence coming into spring training this season.
“I finished last season strong and now I’m just trying to pick up where I left off,” Barnes said.
Having worked diligently to work on the consistency of his secondary pitches and mechanics, he’s starting to see results in his bullpens.
“I’m very pleased. My secondary pitches and delivery are the best they’ve been,” Barnes said.
Improving his curveball and changeup wasn’t Barnes only goal this offseason. The talented right-hander wants to pitch deeper into games and throw more innings in 2014 than ever before.
“I want to go into the 6th, 7th, 8th inning of ballgames this year,” Barnes said. “I want to be the guy my teammates count on to keep them in games, even when I don’t have my best stuff.”
Although he’s expected by most to start the season back in Pawtucket, Barnes knows he’s close to the ultimate goal, but he tries not to think about it.
“I can only control my preparation, my routine, and the results on the field,” Barnes said. “I’ll just let the people who make those decisions make those decisions.”
“And the rest will take care of itself.”
Follow OPSN Lead Writer Shawn Ferris on Twitter @RealShawnFerris for more MLB updates, news, analysis, and prospect interviews.