EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 4, 2013

Growing Pains

Barnes' stats are ordinary but his potential is extraordinary

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — Red Sox prospect Matt Barnes’ statistics aren’t eye-popping like they were last year.

Actually, they aren’t too good at all. He has a 5.19 ERA and a .282 batting average against in 15 starts for Double-A Portland.

Is it time to get nervous about the 2011 first-round pick who entered this season ranked by Baseball America as the 40th best prospect in all of professional baseball?

No, it’s not yet time to sweat his performance.

Sometimes good pitchers have poor years in the minors. It’s as simple as that.

We saw it last year with 2010 first-round pick Anthony Ranaudo, who had a 6.69 ERA in nine starts before being sent to the Red Sox minor league complex with a tired arm. Ranaudo has bounced back this year with an 8-2 record with a 2.68 ERA for Portland and was picked to pitch in the All-Star Futures Game.

Barnes who turned 23 on June 17, is someone many consider an ace or top-of-the rotation starter. He has the potential to bounce back in the final two months this season.

“I’ve felt good for the last month and a half,” Barnes said. “It’s just a matter of making pitches when you have to, consistency with all the pitches and maybe a little bit of luck.”

Last year, in his first professional season, he had a 2.86 ERA in 25 starts between Single-A Greenville and Single-A Salem. He led Sox minor leaguers in strikeouts (133), was third in ERA and WHIP (1.05) and fifth in batting average against (.225).

This year has been a different story. His WHIP (walks and hits per inning) is 1.51 compared 1.05 last year. His walks are up to 3.3 per nine innings compared to 2.2 last year.

On the bright side, he has struck out 11.0 batters per nine innings, an increase from 10.0 last year.

“I think I’ve learned a little bit more about myself and know what’s wrong,” Barnes said. “If something kind of gets off during the course of a game I can kind of correct it, hopefully, within that at-bat or inning.”

Barnes spoke with The Eagle-Tribune after a recent start against Trenton, when he walked five batters in 5.0 innings but didn’t surrender any runs and allowed just three hits.

“Obviously my command was off,” Barnes said. “It wasn’t good at all. But I was still able to make pitches when I had to.”

The right-hander’s numbers dropped off during the second half of last year while he began working more on his changeup, which he now considers his second best pitch behind his fastball.

“The fastball’s playing well and the changeup, I’ve made a lot of strides with it,” he said. “I feel comfortable with it. I can throw it in any count whenever I want.

“And the curveball has made strides this year, too. I struggled with that at the end of last year and a little bit at the beginning of this year. But as of late, I’m starting to find the release point consistently and I’ve been able to use that as a weapon.”

Top 10 Red Sox Prospects

Here is how I rate the prospects. All stats are through Tuesday.

1. Xander Bogaerts, SS: Baseball America ranked this 20-year-old the No. 8 prospect in pro baseball entering this year. After posting a .311 average and .407 on-base percentage in 56 games at Double-A Portland, he recently was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he has four homers, 11 RBIs, a .254 average and .342 OBP in 18 games (67 at-bats). He will play in the All-Star Futures Game.

2. Allen Webster, RHP: Baseball America ranked this 23-year-old the 49th best prospect entering this season. He is starting games for Boston with Clay Buchholz on the DL. He is 5-1 with a 2.98 ERA in 10 starts for Pawtucket.

3. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF: Baseball America ranked this 23-year-old the 31st best prospect entering this season. He has had two stints with Boston this season. With Pawtucket, he’s batting .300 with a .387 OBP, six homers, 20 RBIs, 17 doubles and two triples.

4. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP: This 23-year-old has bounced back very nicely after a tough 2012 season. He is 8-2 with a 2.68 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 15 starts (84.0 IP) for Double-A Portland.

5. Garin Cecchini, 3B: This 22-year-old had a .350 average and .469 OBP in 63 games for Single-A Salem before being promoted to Double-A Portland. In 10 games there he is batting .324 with a .468 OBP.

6. Rubby De La Rosa, RHP: This 24-year-old fireballer is 2-1 with a 2.47 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 15 starts (58.1 IP) for Triple-A Pawtucket. It’s his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. He is a candidate to be a reliever for Boston later this season.

7. Henry Owens, LHP: Baseball America ranked this 20-year-old the 91st best prospect entering this season. He is 6-3 with a 2.91 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 15 starts (77.1 IP) for Single-A Salem.

8. Blake Swihart, C: Baseball America ranked this 21-year-old the 72nd best prospect entering this season. He has a .276 average, .358 OBP, 15 doubles, six triples and two homers for Single-A Salem.

9. Matt Barnes, RHP: Baseball America ranked this 23-year-old as the 40th best prospect entering this season. He has struggled though with a 5.19 ERA in 15 starts for Double-A Portland.

10. Trey Ball, LHP: This 19-year-old was selected seventh overall in his year’s draft. He will start his pro career with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox. Look for him to rise quickly in the organizational rankings.

Follow Eagle-Tribune baseball writer Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB