Minor League Prospect Report: Matt Barnes, RHP, Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox drafted Matt Barnes in the first round in 2011. The 19th-overall pick in the draft, Barnes had a successful professional debut and will sit at or close to the top of Boston's minor league prospect depth chart heading into 2013.
Barnes wasn't drafted out of high school, but the Bethel, Connecticut native drew notice as a freshman for the Connecticut Huskies in 2009. He posted a 5.43 ERA, but posted a 55/23 K/BB in 53 innings and demonstrated intriguing projectability. Moved into the rotation as a sophomore in '10, he showed better velocity, improved to a 3.92 ERA with a 75/25 K/BB in 83 innings. He followed that up with impressive performances in the Cape Cod League and for Team USA that summer.
Entering 2011 as a likely first-round pick, he met or exceeded all expectations by going 11-4, 1.62 in 16 starts, with a 111/31 K/BB ratio in 117 innings, allowing only 71 hits. He signed for $1,500,000 right before the deadline last August, too late to pitch professionally. Based on his college performance, I gave him a Grade B+ this spring despite the lack of pro data.
The Red Sox exercised some caution and had him begin 2012 with Greenville in the Low-A South Atlantic League. He was way too good for the competition, posting a 0.34 ERA in five starts with a spectacular 42/4 K/BB ratio in 27 innings, allowing a mere 12 hits. Promoted to High-A Salem in the Carolina League in May, he went 5-5 in 20 starts with a 3.58 ERA and a 91/25 K/BB ratio in 93 innings, allowing 85 hits.
Overall he posted a 2.86 ERA with a 133/29 K/BB in 120 innings this year, with 97 hits and just six homers allowed.
Barnes is a 6-4, 205 pound right-hander, born June 17, 1990. He works at 93-95 MPH and tops out at 97-98 at his best. His secondary pitches are a curveball and changeup. The curve is ahead of the change at this point. Both pitches are still inconsistent at times, but are more reliable than they were in college.
The main caution flag: Barnes tired in the second half, costing him a bit of zip on his pitches and hampering his command. Indeed, this shows up in the statistics: he posted a 1.37 ERA with a 53/8 K/BB and just 33 hits allowed in his first 46 innings for Salem, but a 5.74 ERA with a 38/17 K/BB and 52 hits in his last 47 innings.
Hopefully this is just a blip, as there's no indication of an injury and scouts feel his body type and mechanics auger well for his durability. If everything comes together, Barnes will have above-average command of three major league pitches, projecting as a number two or strong number three starter. He should begin 2013 in Double-A.
Barnes reminds me to some extent of Mets pitcher Matt Harvey. Both were physical college right-handers who needed to refine their secondary pitches. Harvey had some problems in the summer of 2011 but took a big step forward in 2012. Perhaps Barnes can do the same thing in '13.