BRADENTON, Fla. – Barrett Barnes didn’t just hit well over the second half of his 2016 campaign — he absolutely crushed the ball for over two months. His .383 average and 1.057 OPS in July and August was enough to garner plenty of recognition, including winning our Player of the Month honor twice in a row, a feat that had yet to be accomplished in over four years of naming a minor league player of the month on Pirates Prospects.
The hitting began on June 14th of last summer for Barnes after an off day the day before. Up to that point, he was batting a mere .241 with a .659 OPS. He only had one home run and, very simply, did not look very good at the plate. Whatever the revelation that came over Barnes on that off-day worked wonders, as he finished the season on a tear, batting .351 with 22 doubles, 3 triples, and 8 home runs over that 73 game span.
I remember writing how it seemed that whatever could go wrong went wrong for Barnes towards the beginning of 2016. He seemed distracted and helpless. Joey Cora, Barnes’ manager at the time in Altoona, told me that the biggest difference that Barnes made was about work ethic, concentration, and focus.
“He made a commitment to his workday and routine, and he made a choice to do what he needs to do to prepare for the games,” Cora said at the time. “It’s not about health; it’s about preparation.”
The commitment allowed Barnes to regain some of his stronghold as a prospect coming through the Pirates’ system, and he was invited to Major League camp for the first time in his career.
“There is so much more freedom,” Barnes said about the difference between Minor League camp at Pirate City compared to his time so far with the Major League squad. “It’s not what they want you to do necessarily, it’s what you need. They have drills lined out and prepared every day, but it’s more that you have to get yourself ready to play.”
Barnes did his part again during the offseason to prepare for his 2017 campaign, training at Fairchild Sports Performance in Houston, Texas with fellow teammates Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, and Brandon Waddell. This is his third year training in the offseason at Fairchild, and it is no coincidence that Barnes has been able to stay healthy and on the field in each of the last two seasons.
“I have kept the same routine that Ben Fairchild put together for me,” Barnes said about his offseason regime. “It’s worked for the last two years, so I’m sticking with it.”
Barnes had high praise for the work that Fairchild and his staff have done over the past couple of years, saying that he will continue going there until his baseball career is over. Other Major League players that have trained at Fairchild include former Pirate Mark Melancon, Hunter Pence, Lance Berkman (who won the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2011 after training at Fairchild), Anthony Rendon, and Craig Biggio.
On Fairchild Sports Performance’s website, owner Ben Fairchild explains that professional players need to understand the importance of remaining healthy and available.
“50% of major league starters end up on the disabled list at some point during the season, and that number is staggering. For position players, that number is not far behind,” Fairchild said via a promotional video on his site. “The number one factor for earning capability is reliability in professional sports. If a player is healthy and available, he adds value to the team.”
Barnes missed a lot of playing time early in his career due to injuries. He only saw 125 at-bats in half a season in his rookie debut, followed by 183 at-bats in his full-season debut. He missed most of the 2014 season, getting only 50 at-bats. But he has combined for 765 at-bats over the last two years, including 124 games played in 2016.
The program that Fairchild has put together has worked well for Barnes. He did not strive to get bigger or stronger in the offseason, as he returns to camp at the same weight he left last fall. Rather, he wanted to return to the Pirates with more mobility and flexibility.
Now, Barnes is ready to compete for a job. Anthony Young, Barnes’ uncle who pitched for four MLB teams, has explained to him that he needs to go out and show why he deserves a job.
“My uncle told me that I’m at a level now where I have to take someone’s job,” Barnes said. “Once you get that job, you have to keep it. It’s up to you to decide what you need to be ready to go out there to take, and keep, a job.”
As for what he is doing to maintain that momentum from last season in his likely jump to Indianapolis, Barnes is keeping it simple.
“I’m trying not to change anything,” Barnes said. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. I’m gonna keep doing what I was doing at the end of the year and see where it takes me.”
He has implemented some new defensive drills into his routine, working on getting to the catch point quicker and more efficiently.
“It’s about getting back behind the ball and beating the ball to the point of where it will land,” Barnes explained. “That way, you have the chance to make an adjustment. That’s been the biggest thing I’ve worked on this spring.”
Clint Hurdle told Barnes that he just needs to go out there, have fun, and play.
“Everyone in this locker room has some tool, some ability, or some knack that can help a team win games,” Barnes said. “Everyone here can help Clint win a game in some way, shape, or fashion. He told me to just go play the game, because what you have, we love, and what you bring to the tables plays. When a spot opens up, it opens up.”
If Barnes can remain healthy and continue his recent pace at the plate, he can easily be considered for a fourth outfield spot in the majors down the line. He doesn’t quite have the speed he had when drafted, but he can still navigate a corner outfield spot just fine. The hope is that his power numbers continue to play like they did in the second half of 2016, and he can continue staying on the field consistently like he has for the last two years.