November 4, 2013 at 8:00 AM
This week, SoxProspects.com wraps up its season-end countdown of the top 40 prospects in the system, recapping their seasons and previewing what's ahead in 2014. You can find all of the entries in this year's series here.
#5 Matt Barnes, RHP
2013 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs/Pawtucket Red Sox
2013 Stats: 113 1/3 IP, 6-10, 4.13 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 142 K, 48 BB
Pre-2013: After an extremely impressive performance in the Cape Cod League followed up by a dominant junior season at the University of Connecticut, the Red Sox made Barnes the 19th overall selection in the 2011 draft. The 6-foot-4 right-hander did not sign until the August 15 deadline, so Barnes’ professional debut had to wait until the following spring. Barnes was initially assigned to the Greenville Drive, but the Low A South Atlantic League proved no match for him. In five starts at that level, Barnes was charged with only one run, and even that was an inherited runner. To go with the 0.34 ERA over 26 2/3 innings, he also compiled a 0.60 WHIP, striking out 42 while walking only four. The Red Sox were convinced that Barnes had sufficiently adjusted to pro ball, and he was promoted to Salem on April 29.
Early on, it looked like Barnes would roll through High A nearly as easily. Through his first eight Carolina League starts, he had a 1.36 ERA and 53 strikeouts against only eight walks. a stretch of success that carried him to the top of the prospect rankings here on SoxProspects.com on June 22. After this meteoric debut, however, he fell back to earth, posting a 5.74 ERA in his final 12 appearances. Despite slowing down later in the year, Barnes was ranked the 40th-best prospect in the game by Baseball America.
2013 Season in Review: Barnes began 2013 at Double-A Portland, and the second-year pro received a rude introduction to the Eastern League. Barnes recorded only 11 outs in his first two starts and finished April with an 8.79 ERA as batters feasted on him to the tune of a .387/.449/.581 line. He alternated between good outings and poor throughout the season, but got more consistent as the season went on. He posted a 2.66 ERA with Portland after the break, striking out 52 in only 40 2/3 innings. This strong second half earned him a late-season promotion to Pawtucket. Making his final regular season start for the PawSox, Barnes struck out seven and walked only two while scattering three hits in 5 1/3 shutout innings. This final outing was a capsule of the two most encouraging aspects of Barnes’ season – his strong finish and his ability to miss bats. Across two levels, Barnes K/9 rate of 11.28 was tops in the Red Sox organization for starting pitchers. Barnes made one start for Pawtucket in the International League playoffs, lasting four innings and taking the loss.
First-Hand Report and 2014 Outlook: Barnes had a down season statistically, but the tools that made him one of the top, if not the top, arms in the system coming into the season are still there. Barnes has a great pitcher’s frame, and has a controlled, repeatable delivery. His fastball is his best pitch, sitting 92-95 mph and topping out at 97 mph on occasion. The pitch has good life and late arm-side run. He is especially effective when he finishes to pitch, working primarily down in the zone. When he leaves the pitch up, it flattens out and becomes very hittable. His biggest issue this year was fastball command—while he was still missing bats, he struggled to throw quality strikes. Barnes’s secondary pitches consist of a curveball and changeup, but both lag behind his fastball. His fastball is a potential plus-plus offering, while how the other two grade depends on the outing scouted, as he was inconsistent from start to start with both this season. His mid-70s curveball showed slightly more potential in games scouted this year, showing solid-average on occasion with deep 11-5 break and the potential to miss bats. He often struggled to finish the pitch, and couldn’t find a consistent release point in some games. His changeup is still a work in progress, and he seemed to be making more of a concerted effort in outings this year to use the pitch. He doesn’t have great feel for the pitch, throwing it anywhere from 83-87 mph; at times it looks more like a fastball he took something off. When he throws it with similar arm speed to his fastball, it shows late arm-side fade and the potential to be at least an average third offering to keep hitters off-balance. Barnes will start the season in what has the potential to be a loaded Pawtucket rotation. Depending on how he performs, he could position himself for a big league call-up late in the season. - Ian Cundall
Photo Credit: Matt Barnes by Kelly O'Connor