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May 29, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Scouting Scratch: Matt Barnes


Date Scouted: May 6, 2013
Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Opponent: Reading Phillies

Matt Barnes entered the 2013 season as arguably the top-pitching prospect in the Red Sox system after a strong 2012 season in Greenville and Salem. Barnes was expected to excel in the lower levels as a college pitcher with a solid three-pitch mix, and he did dominate hitters, especially in Low-A. Starting this season off in Portland was expected to provide a sterner test of Barnes' arsenal, as the jump from A-ball to Double-A is one of the most difficult in the developmental process. Barnes had been inconsistent early in his time with Portland, struggling in three of his first four starts. Over his next three starts, Barnes seemed to have turned the corner, and it was in this stretch that I was able to catch him.

The weather conditions were well-below average for a May evening in Portland, with temperatures in the 40’s and a foggy mist rolling in throughout the game. Barnes didn’t have his best stuff on this occasion, both in terms of his fastball and secondary offerings, but he was still able to succeed, pitching six solid innings, giving up five hits, one walk and zero runs with four strikeouts. More noteworthy than his stuff, was Barnes' ability to pitch through adversity, as he had to work around a few defensive lapses, in addition to the weather.

Barnes has good size and an athletic, projectable frame. He has an easy, repeatable delivery and is able to hold his arm slot across all three pitches. Barnes' calling card is his fastball, which in past outings has been clocked in the mid-to-upper-90s. During this scouting trip, however, he didn’t have his a normal velocity, sitting 91-93 mph and topping out at 94 a few times for the first four innings. He was finishing his delivery, allowing him to get good downhill plane and the pitch showed arm-side run and good downward action. He didn’t have excellent command, but he kept the ball out of the middle of the plate for the most part and down in the zone. One of his best pitches of the night was a 91-mph pitch down and running away from a left-handed hitter for one of his three strikeouts he recorded using the fastball. Overall, he threw 50 of 70 fastballs for strikes, and though he only got six swing-and-misses, the pitch generated plenty of weak contact. However, when he left the ball up and over the plate, he was made to pay as he didn’t have his usual velocity and couldn’t just blow it by the hitter.

The most impressive part of Barnes' outing was his ability to reach back in the fifth inning when he needed to, in a tight situation, with Portland up, 1-0. The first batter reached on an error and eventually got to third base with one out. Needing either a strikeout or infield out, Barnes seemed to take it to another gear and reached back, sitting 93-94 mph for the rest of the inning and touching 95 mph once. He was able to keep the pitch down and got a weak pop out to the catcher for the second out, before eventually getting out of the inning unscathed. Barnes didn’t need this type of velocity the entire game, as he was able to be successful while in the low-90s, but knowing he has the ability to reach back when necessary is something that will serve him well in the future.

Barnes’s secondary offerings were inconsistent during the game, but he threw a few good ones and was able to keep hitters off balance. He used them sparingly as he was relying on his fastball throughout the outing, but he had the confidence with both to throw them in tight situations with runners in scoring position. Barnes only threw seven changeups in the outing, with four of them going for strikes. The pitch came in 83-85 mph and showed plus potential on occasion. His best changeup of the night was thrown with excellent arm speed and showed fade down and in to the right-handed batter. A few times, however he held on to the ball to long and left it down in the dirt.

Barnes threw his curveball almost twice as much as his changeup, utilizing it 13 times in the outing. He only threw it six times for strikes and didn’t always finish the pitch. He threw it at 74-77 mph and got one strikeout on a 76-mph curveball down in the zone. At its best, the pitch showed depth and late bite, but again he struggled to consistently find a release point with the pitch, often releasing it early and leaving it up and out the strike zone. Presently, the pitch grades a tick below average. Even though he wasn’t at his best with either offering, he was still effective overall and they provided a good complement to his fastball. In order to reach his ceiling, Barnes has to continue to develop these secondary offerings by improving his consistency and feel with each pitch.

Photo credit: Matt Barnes by Kelly O'Connor

Ian Cundall is a Northeast Scout for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.


 
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