His first professional season was a bit of a learning experience for right-hander Matt Barnes, the Red Sox first pick (19th overall) in the 2011 draft out of UConn.
I had a blast this season, said Barnes, the native of Bethel, Conn. The first half was more than I could have expected in terms of performance. Then the second half I learned a little bit about myself, about the game. But overall I thought it was a pretty successful year and I had a blast meeting new guys and getting acclimated to the Red Sox system.
He is home in Connecticut now, where his family hosted 16 guests on Thanksgiving Day with another 24 expected for dinner the day after. One of the perks of being part of the Red Sox organization is that as he eventually inevitably -- moves up the system, he also moves closer to home Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket before Boston.
Thats one of the things that I really love about playing for a team thats in the Northeast is that the closer I get to the big leagues the closer I get to home, which is really nice, he said. My parents are able to come out and see me play, which is really important. My family and friends can come and see me play, which is really nice.
His first season, though, was a bit of an adjustment to professional baseball, to a longer season, to better hitters. Although Barnes was picked in the 2011 draft, he didnt sign until August that year and did not appear in a game in the Sox organization that season.
I think I learned how to actually pitch, Barnes said of his first season. And when I say learned how to pitch, I mean learned how to incorporate different pitches and to turn more to the finer aspects of pitching rather than just kind of throwing. I learned how to deal with failure a little bit because I saw some of that in the second half, for sure. And just kind of learned how to deal with the first full season, because it can get a little bit long, especially the first year, and what I need to do to take care of my body so that I put myself in the best position possible to succeed in the second half.
Barnes had plenty of success early in the season. He began 2102 with Single-A Greenville, where he was nearly unhittable, as his .130 opponents average attests. In five starts, he posted a record of 2-0 with a 0.34 ERA. In 26 23 innings, he allowed just one run on 12 hits with 42 strikeouts and just four walks, for a WHIP of 0.60, a 14.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio, and 10.50 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
But, after he was promoted to High-A Salem, Barnes faced more of a challenge. In 20 starts with Salem, he was 5-5 with a 3.58 ERA, and a .250 opponents average. In 93 innings, he gave up 85 hits and 25 walks with 91 strikeouts, for a 1.183 WHIP, 8.8 K9, and 3.64 KBB.
I think the biggest adjustment were the guys in Salem were just a little bit more seasoned, Barnes said. They had been there a little longer, in pro ball a little longer. The guys were a little older. Their pitch selection was a little bit better. They didnt chase pitches as much. And I think they hit mistakes a little bit better. You have to mix pitches a little bit more and you have to make your pitch when you need to. A 2-0 pitch, you cant throw it right down the middle of the plate and say Here you go to a 22-year-old college hitter whos seen good fastballs for the last couple of years. Whereas maybe in Low-A you have some guys who are a little bit younger who are maybe still trying to get adjusted to pro ball. And as you get older and you played against kids who are more seasoned sometimes you can get away things.
He started out strong with Salem, posting a record of 2-1 (1.93) in five May starts. But, his numbers began to slip as the season went on. He was unbeaten at 3-0 in June but his ERA climbed to 3.57. In five July he was 0-3 (4.98), and in five combined starts in August and September he was 0-1 (4.35).
Still, he is pleased with his first season.
I think there were two things that kind of went hand in hand, he said. I think my fastball command was exceptional in the first half. It dwindled a little bit from time to time in the second half but overall I thought my fastball command was really good and was happy with it. The second thing was development of a changeup. It went from kind of there, to use it once in a while, to a pitch that I started to throw at points 10, 11, 12 times a game. thats really helped me out, especially when the curveball wasnt as consistent as Id like it to be.
Barnes, who turned 22 in June, is 6-feet-4, 205 pounds. His fastball is generally 93-95, and can touch 97, 98. Some of the inconsistency, he thought, can be attributed to the longer season.
I think the fastball command, it was just my body getting a little bit tired toward the end, he said. Lower half wasnt as strong, arm was a little tired just from throwing every single day for five or six months.
The season is definitely longer than college and summer ball combined. And it can drag in points but thats why you have your teammates and people helping you through it. But at the end of the day you got to remember youre doing something you love. Your body gets a little tired, and I think thats what everybody says the first year adjustments are like. You have to adjust to your first full season, and once you get to your second season time flies by. So Im looking forward to that.
Barnes could start next season back with Salem, or the Sox could send him to Double-A Portland. He wont find out until the end of spring training, though. Barnes has been working out and will begin his throwing program next month. Hell head to Fort Myers in early February to begin his second full season. Hell have some goals set for himself then.
Im going to go out there and try to perform to the best of my capabilities and I want to, like Ive always tried to do, I want to be as consistent as possible and try and give the team a good outing every time I step on that rubber, he said.
Barnes could be part of the big league team by 2014. Hes trying not to focus on that for now.
I want to get there as soon as possible, as Im sure everybody in minor leagues does, he said. They want to try and get to the big leagues as soon as possible. But I try not to focus on where I go, when I go. I really dont have any control over that other than just how I perform. I just try to focus on how I perform and trying to perform to the best of my abilities and kind of let the rest take care of itself.