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June 6, 2012 at 8:30 AM

The Book: Matt Barnes

Date: June 4, 2012
Team: Salem Red Sox

Line: 6.0 innings, 4 hits, 0 earned runs, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts, 80 pitches

Fastball: Barnes established his fastball early in the outing and continued to work to pound the zone with it through his last inning of work. Operating 91-96 mph, his heater sat 93-95 mph and he held his plus velocity deep into the outing. Barnes’ arm action is very loose when he delivers the offering, enabling him to be efficient with his energy. On multiple occasions, either ahead in the count or in a spot where he needed to make a pitch, Barnes reached back for extra velocity and showed a keen understanding of how to attack the zone with his fastball. In addition to the strong velocity, the pitch showed solid downward movement and late life, especially to the glove side. It was extremely effective when spotted in the lower tier of the strike zone in this start. Many of the opposing hitters were behind it and put it weakly into play as he churned through the lineup. Barnes’ command of the pitch graded as solid-average, with the ability to throw to both sides of the plate and move the ball around all four quadrants of the strike zone. He did leave it up a handful of times due to a lack of finishing his delivery. Barnes’ fastball tends to straighten out at the belt and is much more hittable. Hitters made hard contact despite the velocity, as the pitch stays on the same plane when elevated.

Secondary Offerings: Barnes threw both his curveball and changeup with regularity in the outing. In the first frame his change was on the hard side at 87 mph, but as the start progressed it began to consistently clock in at 84-86 mph with more depth. Barnes produced arm-speed in sync with his fastball starting in the second inning. This created the deception necessary to have opposing batters out in front of the ball as they were reading fastball upon delivery. Barnes picked up three outs with his changeup against right-handed batters, where they carved off drives to the outfield due to being out in front. He dropped the pitch in for a strike on a couple of occasions, but is presently inconsistent with his command of it and being able to bring it up above the knees. The pitch graded as average, with the room for growth. Barnes’ 74-76 mph curve came and went on him during the outing. He had trouble staying on top of it and finishing it consistently, and was better later on with the curve. It tended to roll flatly to the plate, but he did snap off some very tight ones with deep break and showed that he can spin it when staying on the ball. Barnes can wrap his wrist when throwing his curveball, which hinders the snap he creates. He also slowed his arm down on two occasions to show it early and lose crispness. The curve graded as fringe-average overall due to the lack of consistency.

Take: Barnes has a lot of polish to his pitching package. He understands how to pitch and brings a plan of attack to the mound. Barnes looked in control of things for the entire outing, keeping his delivery in check consistently and rarely allowing himself to fall out of rhythm on the mound. Besides having excellent stuff, he is presently a pitcher and demonstrates the type of pitchability to get opposing hitters out in multiple ways. When Barnes was in the situation to reach back for more, he was able to do it effectively to get the out. He also showed he can churn efficiently through sequences, moving his fastball around the zone and mixing his secondary offerings in to pitch to contact. I liked how Barnes assessed the situations he was in and see him as a future power arm, with the ability to finesse stretches to go deep into outings. It should not be long before he is pitching in the upper levels of the minors and spending some of the summer in Double-A is well within reach.

Barnes is not without flaws. His curveball needs cleanup to push to the level of a consistent major league offering. Barnes can spin his curve and it flashed plus potential, but he fights himself at times when throwing it. How he is progressing with the pitch will bear watching in follow-up scouting looks. He needs to be able to lean on the offering to miss bats as he makes his way into the upper levels and beyond. Barnes’ fastball is much better in the lower tier of the strike zone and he will have to selectively elevate it. I saw a heater that projects to be designed to pound the zone for strikes and produce weak contact. The change showed improvement from the last time I saw him, especially with the arm-speed that Barnes creates. It also looked like a pitch that is going to lean more towards weak contact than swings and misses against more advanced batters. The progress with his curveball crispness is key for him to have a consistent swing-and-miss pitch in his arsenal. Barnes is clearly the top pitching prospect within the organization. I can comfortably project him as a number three at the big league level, with the chance to push towards a number two if he can iron out his areas of need. Given where Barnes is with his polish, a large majority of the package is presently there and his strides are going to be centered on the finer points of his game.

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen