The Oakland A’s farm system is rated low this year, but they have lots of promising prospects in the upper minors who are just under the national radar despite intriguing upside. One of them is getting an early look right now in May.
When an injury came up in the lineup, the A’s promoted 25-year-old outfielder Luis Barrera to the majors. Entering the season he ranked No. 8 on our Community Prospect List, with an aggressive approach at the plate, lots of all-fields contact, quality defense, a cannon arm, and blazing speed. The question is whether those tools will add up to a solid bench player, or a dynamic everyday starter.
It’s mildly surprising to see Barrera up this early, as he didn’t even debut at Triple-A until a few weeks ago. He made it as high as Double-A in 2019 but was stalled by injuries, then the whole minor league season was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. But after spending last summer at the A’s alternate site camp, he got off to an absurd start for the Las Vegas Aviators this year, batting .349 in 11 games with patience and extra-base power for a .987 OPS. That was enough to get the call when DH Mitch Moreland went on the injured list.
Barrera made his MLB debut on Wednesday, as a defensive replacement in the late innings, and he also got his first at-bat but struck out against Houston Astros reliever Kent Emanuel. The next day he pinch-ran, and on Saturday he pinch-hit but grounded out.
On Sunday he finally got his first start in the majors, playing LF and batting ninth against Dylan Bundy and the Los Angeles Angels. His first time up he struck out, and by the time he batted again the A’s had already knocked out Bundy and gotten into the Halos bullpen. Facing reliever Aaron Slegers, Barrera swung at a 1-1 sinker and slashed a liner to left for a clean single. First MLB hit!
It wasn’t hard contact at 74.1 mph exit velocity but it did have enough elevation to clear the infield, and that kind of soft liner falls for a hit 75% of the time according to Statcast. Barrera is also capable of drilling the ball with more authority, but this hit still shows off his ability to use the whole field and slap line drives, which helped him post consistently high BABIP marks throughout the minors. And once he does get on base, he can burn with his 70-grade speed.
Barrera got one more at-bat against the Angels, flying out to left. His spot in the lineup came up once more after that, but unfortunately he was pulled for a pinch-hitter.
It would have been fun to see him get a chance in a tight spot, with runners on the corners, two out, and the score tied in the 8th inning, as anything from a sharp liner to another flare single to a surprise bunt could have done the job. Instead Oakland opted for the platoon advantage against a lefty pitcher, and that meant bringing in righty Elvis Andrus, even though he’s statistically the least productive hitter in the majors this year (27 wRC+). Andrus popped out.
But never mind that. Nine years after signing with the A’s as an international free agent, Barrera is on the board in the majors, with a 1-for-5 career line and a batting average that includes a number other than zero. Congrats!