He can't leap tall buildings in a single bound, nor can he rescue the Josh Donaldson trade single-handedly. What Franklin Barreto might be able to do, however, is play major league baseball really well.
Always a solid prospect, Barreto's strong showing (.302/.333/.500) in A-ball at age 19 last year only moved him higher on prospect lists and the SS -- or is he? -- will not turn 20 until February. There are questions about whether any 19 year old yet to play at AA can hit, but if you believe scouts and results-so-far, in Barreto you gain a profile of a guy "whose bat will play in the big leagues," and maybe sooner rather than later.
The questions around Barreto have always centered around his glove and whether he would inevitably have to move off of SS and if so whether he would find a position he could handle. Careers have been derailed by the inability to find a place on the field that doesn't render your glove a five-fingered butcher's knife. But enough about Grant Green.
Now comes word out of the Venezuelan Winter League that Barreto is not only playing CF but is feeling super-comfortable there. This could be the winter equivalent of the player who shows up to spring training "in the best shape of his life" or it could be a huge step in Barreto's progress: Not only to find a position he can learn to play well, but one that would keep him up the middle, maximizing his value and utilizing his good speed (Barreto has stolen 47 bases so far, and been caught 14 times, in his 222 game minor league career).
Let's ponder what the A's might have on their hands, if Barreto finds his home in CF and is able to put his speed and good athleticism to use. Perhaps he becomes an average defensive CFer with a solid hit tool. A average defensive CFer who bats around .280/.350/.420, which does not appear to be a reach for Barreto's batting potential, is an extremely valuable player. That's a little better than Austin Jackson, Angel Pagan, comparable (more OBP, less SLG) to the talented but overrated Adam Jones. (Did you know that Jones' career OBP is .319 and that his career UZR/150 in CF is -1.4?)
Now, I don't want to get too giddy over one quote in a Winter League interview, but it happens to be in line with my intuition all along: that Barreto would be over matched by the skill-set needed to master SS and might find his calling out of the infield entirely, specifically in CF.
If Barreto gets off to a hot start at AA in 2016, both at the plate and in CF, look for him to be fast-tracked. He could be in the big leagues as soon as 2017 (his age 21 season) if everything breaks right, and it figures to be with the A's unless Jeff Samardzija becomes available again. (Too soon? I know.)
Barreto is still a ways from the big leagues, both as a hitter and especially as a CFer, but I love the fact that he is playing CF right now and that he is taking to it like a -- do I dare say it -- fish, as in Trout, to water? I know I will be eagerly awaiting scouting reports on his CF defense, because just average could be enough to give the A's a budding star.