Name: Franklin Barreto
Height/Weight: 5’10’’, 190
Acquired: Acquired in a trade from the Toronto Blue Jays on Nov. 28, 2014.
In the prospect-evaluation world, there is a phenomenon known as “prospect fatigue.” Prospects that are well known from a very young age can sometimes suffer in the eyes of evaluators as evaluators begin to take the prospect’s greatness for granted and focus in on only the flaws. Franklin Barreto is suffering from a bit of prospect fatigue right now, but he remains our call for top A’s prospect and the position player with the highest ceiling in the A’s system.
All eyes have been on Barreto since he signed a $1.45 million deal with the Blue Jays as a 16 year old in July 2012. That scrutiny only intensified in late November 2014, when he was the key prospect in a deal that sent star third baseman Josh Donaldson to Toronto. Despite the pressure, Barreto has met or exceeded expectations at every turn. After getting a taste of the big leagues last season, Barreto seems on the verge of establishing himself as a big league regular at the tender age of 22.
Since joining the A’s before the 2015 season, Barreto has been challenged to play up a level. He spent his age-19 season in High-A with the Stockton Ports and his age-20 season with Double-A Midland. In both cases, he shook off slow starts to put together solid years.
Last season, Barreto began the year with Triple-A Nashville. Again one of the youngest players in his league, Barreto got off to an uncharacteristically red-hot start for the Sounds. The slump that generally hits him at the start of April came in May instead, and he went from batting .357 on May 3 to .269 on June 9. Barreto treaded water for much of June, but when the A’s needed an infielder in the wake of Chad Pinder’s hamstring injury in late June, they called on Barreto to fill in.
Barreto spent a little more than two weeks with the A’s at that time. He began his career with a bang, homering in his second big league at-bat. He collected two more hits in the next day, but then the strike-outs started to pile up. Barreto would hit a walk-off homer on July 4th for the A’s, but he was sent back to Oakland a few days later when Pinder returned from the DL.
Once back in Nashville, Barreto started to turn things around at the plate. Although he hit only .240 for the month of July, Barreto’s walk rate tipped up slightly and he cut his strike-out rate nearly in half from June. Then in August, he got red-hot, hitting .349/.393/.550. He finished his first full season in Triple-A with a .290/.339/.456 line and a career-high 15 home runs in 111 games. Barreto returned to the A’s in September and he hit .207 in 29 at-bats.
In 2017, strike-outs were a significant problem for Barreto for the first time in his career. Between Triple-A and the big leagues, he struck-out 174 times in 136 games. Before last season, Barreto’s career-high in strike-outs was 90 in 119 games. Barreto found himself in a lot of two-strike counts in 2017, and he didn’t have much of a plan when he got to that count.
“The only thing with Barreto is that I didn’t see the two-strike adjustment,” Nashville hitting coach Eric Martins said in a off-season interview. “I want to see him be able to hit with two-strikes and be able to put the ball into play a little bit more instead of the strike-outs. He’s so talented and he can hit anything in the game. When he gets to two-strikes, he needs to find a way to shorten up a little bit and put the ball into play because he is so dynamic when he puts the ball into play, he can beat out balls if he hits them on the ground.
“There would be some stretches where he was better with it. He started putting [two-strike pitches] into play and hitting them on the ground and he was safe because he can really run. Then there were days where he wouldn’t be so locked in and didn’t make that two-strike adjustment. It’s just a learning curve. He’s still so young and he’s still going to have to make some adjustment.”
Martins feels confident that Barreto will make that adjustment eventually.
“He got his taste in the big leagues and found out that it wasn’t going to be as easy as everything else was for him,” he said. “Sometimes when they get that wake-up call and they get that little bit of a taste and it causes them to say, ‘okay, I really need to work on this part of my game.’ But, still, he’s special and he’s going to be special and it’s going to be fun when he finally puts it all together.”
Barreto missed the winter ball season in Venezuela after dealing with an issue with his tooth, but he is already showing improvement with his two-strike approach this spring. Despite the high strike-out totals last year, Barreto has a good feel for the barrel and the ability to make consistent contact with nearly any kind of pitch when he isn’t trying to do too much at the plate.
When he is at his best, Barreto peppers the right-centerfield alley. When he tries to pull everything, he tends to yank off of the ball, leading to swings-and-misses. Although only 5’10’’, Barreto is very strong and has power to all fields. He is still developing a consistent approach from at-bat to at-bat, but when he’s locked in, he’s able to wait for his pitch to hit.
Barreto hasn’t always run a lot since joining the A’s organization, but he is one of the fastest players in the A’s system and can rack up stolen bases in bunches when he is focused on that part of his game. He is always a threat to take third when he hits the ball into the alley and he had nine triples between Triple-A and the big leagues last year.
Defensively, Barreto continued to see time at both shortstop and second base last season. He has improved defensively each season he has played in the A’s organization. Barreto has said he feels most comfortable at second base, but he could still be an option for the A’s at shortstop. His arm is only average for the shortstop position, but he is athletic enough to get to balls to both his glove and arm side.
The A’s currently have veterans Marcus Semien and Jed Lowrie manning their middle infield, so they won’t rush Barreto to the big leagues. He is off to a solid start to spring training, but barring an injury to Semien or Lowrie, Barreto should start the year in Nashville, where he will split time at shortstop and second base with Jorge Mateo. If he shows improvement with his two-strike approach, he should work his way into the A’s everyday line-up at some point in 2018.
Because Barreto has been a top prospect since he arrived in professional baseball, it is easy to forget how young he still is. He turned 22 in late February and still has plenty of time left to round out the rough edges of his game. Barreto has all of the tools to be a star in the big leagues, but it might take him a little time for everything to click at the major league level.
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