There was a time not so long ago when the Red Sox farm system was headlined by “the three B’s:” Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Matt Barnes. And while Bogaerts and Bradley largely have made good on that potential, racing through the Minor Leagues relatively quickly (though neither has proven themselves at the Major League level yet), Barnes has been a bit slower to develop. However, the potential is still there for the 24 year old and, with a recent run of success in Triple-A Pawtucket, this could finally be the season that Barnes reaches Boston.
Last night, against the Gwinnett Braves, Barnes tossed eight innings, allowing just one earned run on seven hits and no walks while fanning three batters. That’s a great performance for any pitcher; however, that level of success has been run-of-the-mill for Barnes lately. In his last five starts, Barnes has allowed only seven earned runs in 32.1 innings pitched (good for a 1.95 ERA) and he has a 27:10 K:BB ratio in that timeframe. Through that five-start span, he has lowered his ERA from a shaky 5.06 to a much more respectable 4.12 in his first full season of Triple-A.
While no longer downright bad, that ERA still doesn’t look especially inspiring, at least not in comparison to other Triple-A pitchers who have had more success this season like Anthony Ranaudo (2.58 ERA, .215 opponents’ batting average) or even knuckleballer Steven Wright (2.81 ERA, .218 opponents’ batting average), but Barnes’ recent run of success certainly puts him above Wright and could even place him on a similar level as Ranaudo.
After all, while Ranaudo has dominating the International League this season, he has legitimate concerns that could prevent him from sticking as a big league starter; for instance, even with his success in Pawtucket, his command has not been great as he has walked 3.6 batters per nine innings. Ranaudo also has not had much success in developing a reliable third pitch, which could limit him to bullpen usage in the long run.
Barnes, on the other hand, has only had slightly better control on the season with 3.4 BB/9; however, that rate has been better in his recent stretch as he has walked just 2.8 per nine innings over his last five starts. And although a five-start sample is not particularly indicative of any repeatable trends, Barnes’ career BB/9 in the minors (3.1) has been lower than Ranaudo’s (3.6). Plus, while Ranaudo and Barnes are similar in that both have a strong fastball-curveball combination, Barnes’ change has been significantly better than Ranaudo’s throughout their respective Minor League careers.
This post is not at all meant to disparage Ranaudo, and in a perfect world, both will get their shots at a September call-up this season (Ranaudo has already made two starts). However, Ranaudo is also not nearly as far ahead of Barnes as most prospect rankings would have you believe. In fact, despite Barnes’ limited success in the upper minors, one could easily argue that he has a better chance of sticking as a starting pitcher than Ranaudo. Thus, considering his current stretch of dominance in Pawtucket, it would be more than fair to give Barnes a chance to start a few games in Boston this September. Who knows, maybe he’ll deliver on his initial promise as the third “B.”