Red Sox moving Barnes to bullpen in Pawtucket


The Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox have scratched Matt Barnes from his scheduled start on Thursday. Though nothing is official, this appears to indicate that the Red Sox have finally transitioned Barnes to the bullpen for good. With no news of an injury to Barnes and given his consistent dominance in relief, it makes sense for the Red Sox to make this move and, with the bullpen an area of need for Boston, to do it now.

The Red Sox initially selected Barnes in the first round of the 2011 draft and he immediately took over as one of Boston’s top pitching prospects. In his first full season in the organization, he dominated Single-A Greenville and High-A Salem with a combined 2.86 ERA, 10.0 K/9, and 2.2 BB/9 in 20 starts.

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However, Barnes’ promise has dimmed a bit due to his struggles in the upper levels of the minors. Now almost 25 years old, Barnes’ development should be nearly complete and yet he still doesn’t look the part of a major league starter. Barnes has been unable to develop a consistent third offering behind his fastball and curve and he has displayed command issues during his time in the upper minors.

Where he was once the de facto top pitching prospect in the organization, Barnes is now ranked fourth by most pundits, behind Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Brian Johnson. With such a plethora of pitching talent in Triple-A Pawtucket, the Red Sox won’t be able to fit all of those prospects into the rotation at once (even considering how bad it has been) and Barnes is the obvious candidate to head to the ‘pen.

Though he has never pitched in relief in his minor league career, he has had success in that role during major league stints and in spring training this year. In 6 major league relief appearances between 2014 and 2015, he has tossed 11 innings and posted a 3.27 ERA on the strength of 7.4 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9.

While two solid pitches are not enough to get by as a starting pitcher, his strong fastball-curve combination gives the potential to serve as a dominant reliever. In short stints, his fastball should play up into the mid 90’s (it sat in the low 90’s during starts) and his hammer curve is a phenomenal out pitch.

With so much depth, the Red Sox clearly see Barnes as a reliever going forward. Boston’s bullpen is fairly thin right now and the ability to add a power reliever like Barnes could be a big addition. This move isn’t necessarily ruling out a future as a starter for Barnes but, with Rodriguez, Owens, and Johnson already in the fold, the Red Sox need him in relief right now and he should be able to contribute shortly.