Hopefully, when I finish writing this article Franklin Barreto will not have been traded, thus undermining the entire premise. I will type fast. While Barreto’s name has been casually mentioned as a possible trade chip for starting pitching, in fact the current narrative from the A’s front office appears to be that the toolsy 23 year old is still part of the core Oakland hopes to contend with in the coming years.
The acquisition of Jurickson Profar, who has 2 years of contract control left, put a wrench in everything because Barreto’s last option year is 2019. So by March, 2020 something has to give. This appears, on the surface, to be a curse for Barreto, possibly stalling him in AAA for a third season and putting his role in 2020 very much in question.
However, if the A’s do in fact keep both Profar and Barreto in the organization it could wind up more of a blessing for Barreto, even if it delays his big league clock by a year.
For one thing, though he is now a veteran of the minor leagues and not quite a pup at 23, without question Barreto still has much to work on and improve. In particular, his numbers show frightening K-rates of late (31.8% at AAA last year, 38.7% in Oakland last year, 41.1% for his big league career so far) and the eyes detect a penchant for swinging through fastballs and chasing bad sliders. Also no one raves about his infield defense, though he has thought to have the tools to be perfectly good.
So another year at AAA would give Barreto a chance to refine his game rather than just relying on raw skills. He showed raw skills in 2018, running into a few mistakes to launch impressive HRs but generally being overmatched by big league pitchers. Yes his tools can sometimes obscure his flaws, but in the major leagues you are well advised to correct flaws rather than rely on raw skills.
However, there’s another reason it may help Barreto to be stuck at AAA another year. History is littered with players who stalled as opportunities were handed to them based on their tools, but who only turned the corner when they were forced to earn their way up. These are athletes who have been the best of the best throughout their lives, dominating high school, college, often the lower minors, usually being promised a spot based on their pedigree and reputation.
The resolve to work on weaknesses, work harder than others, push to be the very best you can be rather than “just being me, it’s always been good enough” — that’s when you see sudden growth, corners turned, lasting careers launched. Perhaps by not being handed the 2B job, but having to unseat Profar and push his way into a job by forcing the A’s hand, Barreto will be moved to elevate his game to the next level. That next level would make him a legitimate big league stalwart rather than a dangerous mess.
As they were negotiating with Jed Lowrie and talking to teams (like Texas) about 2Bmen, plan C was to hand 2B to Barreto and hope for the best. Now “handing the job to Barreto” is off the table, for 2019 and for 2020 when something has to give. Let’s see Barreto force Oakland to choose him by becoming the player scouts have dreamed of rather than the player we currently see on the field and in the stat sheet.
I will close with my opinion on what Barreto needs to fix at the plate. I have always felt that his calling card was his “stay inside the ball” swing designed to spray the ball hard to all fields. In this regard he reminds me a lot of Michael Young and a little of Miguel Cabrera, with the trivial exception that Barreto’s swing rarely makes contact with the baseball. It is, however, a beautiful “all fields swing,” even if he usually hits it to the catcher’s mitt.
I know we are in the “launch angle era” and Barreto has shown some impressive power to the LF bleachers, but I would like to see 2019 dedicated to rediscovering line drives to all fields, with a swing path that gets to the plate as fast as the pitch does. A natural by-product of a quicker swing path and all fields approach is that you simply see pitches longer and make more contact, and it is pretty clear that if Barreto can get his K-rate under 25% he is going to be a big leaguer for a long time.
So Franklin, use 2019 to become the hitter scouts drooled over — the power isn’t going to disappear — and to give the A’s no choice but to save you a spot on the diamond in 2020. And earn it, because the work that goes into earning something pays dividends as you pass by all the talented individuals who had their opportunities handed to them. And don’t forget to leave a thank you card at Profar’s locker.