Barnes Should Quickly Become Rotation Option


The Red Sox recalled pitching prospect Matt Barnes this week to add bullpen depth.  The 24- year old right hander has been used as a starter in the minor leagues, but Boston’s bullpen needs a fresh arm after logging so many innings early on in the season.  Yet the plan for the Red Sox prospect may be altered sooner rather than later.  The Boston rotation has struggled this season and their staff in general has been disappointing, sporting the second worst ERA in the Major Leagues through 31 games (4.97 ERA). 

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With very little in the way of bright spots, it’s only a matter of time before he gets an opportunity to shine. In Barnes’ first appearance with Boston this season, he threw two scoreless innings against Baltimore. With a fastball that can reach up to 95 mph, Barnes provides the bullpen with the power arm they’ve been missing since Andrew Miller departed in the offseason.

The former 19th overall selection in the 2011 draft, Barnes posted a 3.95 ERA for the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox last season in 127 and 2/3 innings.  His WHIP was a 1.29, but he only yielded .56 home runs per nine innings despite leaving the ball up in the strike zone on occasion.  More importantly, he held hitters to a .243 average while striking out 7.26 batters per nine. This season, through 13 innings, he’s raised it to 9.69 strikeouts per nine, while stranding 81.4 percent of base-runners on base.

Barnes’ arsenal begins with his mid-90s fastball.  With good movement that gets inside on hitters quickly, he throws it well to both sides of the plate.  It’s his only plus-pitch right now, but he changes speeds well and has improved his command over it over the past year.  His curveball has good movement and a hard snap out of the zone when he keeps it down and away from hitters.  However, his command over it is his biggest concern as it’s been inconsistent during some of his starts in the minors and he’ll need it to become a plus pitch to be an effective starter in the long-term. His change-up is progressively improving, but he still tends to leave it up in the zone.

The key for Barnes will be keeping the ball in the strike zone and focusing more on his control rather than trying to boost numbers of the radar gun.  When he does that the production speaks for itself.  “He was pounding the strike zone, getting ahead in the count early every at-bat. His stuff was good. His fastball is strong, said catcher Christian Vazquez when speaking about a game he caught that Barnes started this season. 

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It shouldn’t be long before Barnes becomes a strong rotation candidate if the Red Sox staff continues to perform below the level of expectations with Red Sox manager John Farrell going so far as to say that starter Joe Kelly will remain in the team’s rotation “for the time being.”  With Kelly allowing at least five runs in his last four starts including six runs in his last outing versus the Blue Jays, he’ll likely be the first to be replaced.  His 6.35 ERA and 1.35 WHIP through six starts would normally earn him a demotion to the bullpen, but the Boston rotation has performed so terribly that his numbers still trump those of fellow starter Wade Miley.

If Barnes can prove he deserves a chance to start more than fellow prospects Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez, it’s extremely likely that he’ll get an opportunity once the Red Sox decide to make a change. With a two potential plus-pitches and average control, Barnes at least has the floor of a back-end starter, but could provide an immediate injection to a rotation in desperate need of it.