The golden boy, no longer. Just two short years ago, Matt Barnes was the top arm in the Red Sox farm system. With a mid-90s fastball and a respectable changeup and curve, Barnes seemed to have the talent of a major league starter. The selection committee of the Futures Game certainly thought so in selecting him for the 2012 game. And yet, that MLB future seems to have become an elusive, Gatsby-esque “green light” for Barnes. Since the famous blow-it-all-up-and-start-over trade of 2012, which coincided with the peak of the Barnes hype train, a slew of homegrown and imported pitchers have leapfrogged Barnes on the prospect list: Henry Owens, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Anthony Ranaudo. What happened?
Coming into 2013, Barnes was the 38th ranked prospect in baseball according to MLB.com. The hard-throwing righty out of UCONN tore through Single-A Greenville in his first five professional starts in 2012 (letting up only a single run), and then settled into High-A Salem with a decent season (3.58 ERA, 8.81 K/9). In 2013, however, he stumbled through a mediocre season in Portland. He continued to strike batters out at a high rate with the 7th best K/9 in the Eastern League (11.2), but his control took a step back as his BB/9 jumped to 3.8 and his WHIP to 1.463. A 5-10 record doesn’t look too good on a resume either. The result? Dropping to 88th in the prospect rankings prior to 2014. After another underwhelming 2014 season in Pawtucket, in which he accumulated a 3.95 ERA while striking guys out at a lower rate (7.26 K/9), Barnesy is nowhere to be found amongst the top 100 prospects.
Where does Barnes fit in the picture now? Will he ever overtake his NBA counterpart as the most popular result for his own name on Google, and get a Wikipedia page that doesn’t need the qualifier (baseball) in the title?
With Webster and De La Rosa sent packing for the desert in the Wade Miley trade, there are fewer obstacles in Barnes’ way. But he needs to Carpe Diem real fast before Rodriguez or Owens does first. He had his best professional month of pitching in Pawtucket last August, beginning with seven no-hit innings on August 2nd. In six starts and 41 innings, he accumulated a 2.16 ERA with 38 strikeouts and an opponent batting average of .164. That earned him his first brief taste of the big leagues last September, but he was unimpressive in letting up four runs in nine innings out of the bullpen, with an opponent batting average of .306.
The big-league fastball is there, the potential is there, but will Barnes ever put it all together? Or will he get traded away this offseason before we get a chance to see? He’s hit some bumps in the road so far, but a little adversity never hurts. As a pretty good basketball player who got cut from his high school team once said, “I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” No, Matt Barnes isn’t Michael Jordan. Not even close. But he still could have a heck of a lot to add to that “Matt Barnes (baseball)” Wikipedia page. Especially if last August wasn’t a fluke.