Name: Franklin Barreto
Height/Weight: 5’10’’, 190
How Acquired: Acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in Nov. 2014.
Franklin Barreto knows plenty about the pressure of expectations. From the moment he signed a seven-figure bonus with the Toronto Blue Jays, the native of Venezuela has had plenty of eyes watching his every move on the field. That pressure increased tenfold when he was the main chip in the trade that sent future AL MVP Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays.
Despite those expectations, Barreto has remained true to himself as a player. Faced with the challenge of playing in leagues with average ages consistently three-to-five years his senior, Barreto has fought off slow starts to put up solid numbers at every stage of his professional career. As he enters his age-21 season, Barreto finds himself on the doorstep of the big leagues. What kind of player can he be once he gets there?
Since the A’s acquired Barreto before the 2015 season, the organization hasn’t been shy about pushing him against older competition. He was the youngest player in the California League in 2015. After Barreto hit .171 in April, it looked like perhaps he was overmatched by the older competition. The A’s stuck with him, and he wound-up hitting .302 with an 833 OPS for the Stockton Ports.
In 2016, the A’s were once again aggressive with their assignment, sending Barreto to the Texas League, where he was the youngest position player on an Opening Day roster. This time Barreto had a decent April, hitting .276, but he struggled badly in May and was hitting only .236 with a 646 OPS at the end of the first half. Things clicked in for Barreto mid-season, and he tore up the Texas League during the second half of the year. In 51 games, he hit .337/.393/.490, a slashline reminiscent of the one Ryon Healy put up for the RockHounds during the second half of 2015. Barreto continued that torrid hitting into a late-season stint with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds. In nine games between the regular season and the post-season, Barreto had 14 hits in 36 at-bats (.389 BA). Eight of those hits went for extra bases.
Sounds’ hitting coach Eric Martins only got to work with Barreto briefly last season, but he came away impressed.
“He’s really exciting. The short sample size that I had with him during the regular season and the playoffs, he was fun to watch. He is the kind of player who can make things happen with his speed and his power and his ability to hit,” Martins said. “It’s a short stroke. He has the ability to use all fields and he can go out of any part of the field. He can run. He drives balls into the gap. It’s exciting to see where he is at at such a young age and the potential that he has. He still has some adjustments to make, but you can see what the hype is about with this kid. He’s a special player.”
The A’s sent Barreto to the Arizona Fall League and it was a mixed bag for Barreto there. After a career-high 123 games played, he may have been a bit gassed, but, whatever the case, he never got on a hot streak during his AFL time. He hit .261 but posted only a .290 OBP. Refreshed after the off-season, Barreto has been red-hot in big league spring camp, where he is currently the A’s leading hitter.
Franklin Barreto Career Stats
That Barreto can hit in undeniable. He carries a .293 career average into this season and he has hit .280 or higher in every full-season league he has played in. Despite his diminutive stature (he is generously listed at 5’10’’), Barreto has some power in his bat to go along with the speed to be a disruptive force on the base-paths. His approach at the plate has improved, although there is still room for growth. Whether Barreto finds a home at the top of a big league line-up or somewhere in the middle will depend on how much more disciplined he can become at the plate. But he should find a way to be productive, wherever he is hitting.
“Franklin is a hitter. I have seen Franklin since he was 16 years old in Venezuela. He’s always put up numbers,” A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens said. “The guy is way younger than the league and also, nobody hits consistently the whole year. People are going to have peaks and valleys, but the guys who can hit are eventually going to put up numbers. Franklin is a guy who can hit. He’s a guy who is hitting .280 in the Texas League and is young for the level. He has double-digit homers and 30 steals. He’s got ample extra-base hits.”
A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman says the key to Barreto’s second-half turnaround was an improvement with his approach and his ability to balance his natural aggressiveness with the discipline to wait for pitches to drive.
“Barreto has gotten back to a better plan to where he is seeing more pitches and recognizing balls that he can hit into play hard and those he has to leave alone. It’s been more mental more than anything. Just learning that he can be patient at the plate,” Lieppman said. “That’s a lot of what we do in this organization is talk about selectivity without losing your aggressiveness. His example has been a really good one. He has taken to this. He has learned to grind through some eight to 10 pitch at-bats. Those are the signs that he is starting to understand the approach when they can start fighting pitches off and waiting for mistakes.”
Offensively, Barreto has drawn comparisons to former Atlanta Braves’ star Rafael Furcal for his mix of abilities to hit for average, for power in the gaps and use his legs as a weapon. Furcal was a much more disciplined hitter in the minor leagues, but Barreto hits for more power than Furcal did at a similar age. Barreto employs an up-the-middle approach and he had more hits to centerfield than any other position last year. More than half of his homeruns went out to left-center or left-field, but he did show power the opposite direction, as well. Barreto has outstanding hand-eye coordination and a short, smooth stroke that is designed to make a lot of contact. He has the speed to rack up 30 or more stolen bases in a season, but he is still refining his first-step technique and his ability to read pitchers’ moves. When the ball is in play, Barreto is a highly instinctual player who is able to look for and take the extra base.
The biggest question remains where Barreto will play in the field. He has been a shortstop for most of professional career, but many scouts see him moving off of the position. Barreto isn’t a lost cause at short. He was considerably better at making the routine plays last season than he was in 2015 and he has the arm strength to possibly be average at the position. But he isn’t likely to develop into an above-average defender at the position. Barreto saw a significant amount of time at second base last season and fared well in his first extended taste of the position. With Marcus Semien firmly ensconced at shortstop in Oakland, second base may be Barreto’s quickest path to the big leagues.
There has also been talk of moving Barreto to centerfield, a position he played before turning pro. He has yet to play a professional inning in center, but he did play there during the Venezuelan Winter League in 2015. The experiment did not go particularly well, but it was a small sample size. His speed and baseball instincts should allow him to hold his own at the position, should the A’s decide to move in that direction.
“The shortstop defense has been solid. Who knows exactly where he will fall in the defensive spectrum, but he definitely has the actions to play shortstop,” Owens said. “He’s dabbled at second base, as well. He’s got the legs to play anywhere on the diamond. He’s definitely a dynamic player.”
Lieppman says Barreto’s increased versatility is a definite plus.
“He’s been good at both [second and short]. He’s still a candidate to be a shortstop. There is no definite idea yet where he will end up. He’s looked good at both spots turning double-plays,” Lieppman said.
The A’s are in an in-between mode at the big league level where they are putting out a mostly veteran team while still looking towards developing players for the future. With that being the case, the A’s aren’t going to rush Barreto to the big leagues. They will have him spend time in Triple-A at the start of this year to continue to refine his approach at the plate and get more reps defensively. However, if he plays well for the Sounds, he is likely to make a second-half debut in the big leagues, much like Healy did last season.
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