At 26, Brandon Barnes finally made his major league debut with the club that drafted him in the sixth round of the 2005 MLB Draft. He quickly became a fan favorite among those fans still watching the team in August and September last year.
After spending eight years in the Astros minor league system, Barnes was called up on August 7 and quickly made an impression with his first career home run within the first week of being called up and several highlight reel catches in part-time duty.
After re-watching these highlights I have an observation about Barnes: he's got some excellent body control. I'm pretty sure he has a patent request in for the over the head-stretched-jump/dive-towards-the-wall catch.
Fans weren't the only ones thrilled with Barnes defense, the advanced defensive metrics liked him as well. In fact they liked Barnes so much that heposted 0.3 WAR in 43 games. That doesn't sound especially impressive until you figure in his .232 wOBA in 105 plate appearances. To dig an offensive hole that big and come out on the positive side of WAR is simply impressive.
In his 105 major league plate appearances, Barnes hit for a .204 average, a .250 on-base percentage and a .265 slugging percentage. In 446 plate minor league appearances split between AA and AAA, Barnes hit .321/.381/.514 in 106 games. At AA he posted a .406 wOBA and a 155 wRC+. At AAA he posted a .376 wOBA and a 122 wRC+. His minor league numbers are a big improvement over his minor league track record. Is this him just hitting his prime or has he made some adjustments that could help him stick at the major league level?
The projection systems that have tried to predict Barnes' 2013 season are positive if you put him in the correct context, a reserve outfielder.
Steamer, Oliver and ZiPS all project Barnes to be around replacement level in 2013. Steamer has the most positive outcome offensively with a .299 wOBA and Oliver predicts the most positive defensive value out of Barnes.
It's safe to say that Barnes .279 BABIP indicates the possibility of positive regression in his offense. How much remains to be seen but I like him enough as a pinch hitter that could provide a little pop. His value, though, is tied to his defense. If Chris Carter is expected to be start the game in left field it would be wise for the Astros to carry an outfielder they can plug into left field in later innings.
There's also the health of Maxwell and whether or not he can stay on the field for a 130+ games. Sure Ankiel could slide over from right to center but I would much rather have Barnes covering the vast amount of space in Minute Maid Park or Oakland's Coliseum center field.
Plus, if Ankiel has to slide from right field to center that likely means starts for the less defensively sound J.D. Martinez or Fernando Martinez. With Barnes, the Astros get a player that can play at all three outfield positions and play all three outfield positions well.
Barnes is a very nice option for the Astros as a reserve outfielder. He brings positive defensive value to all three outfield positions and provides a decent right-handed option off the bench who can run a little. I'm actually very curious to see what he can provide the club offensively. The projection systems don't have much hope for his offense but his minor league track record does provide some optimism. In 3,107 minor league plate appearances (including the Australian League), he's posted a .263/.325/.447 slash line.
He's never been a very patient hitter or a high contact guy so he may continue to struggle against major league pitching; However, there are some encouraging sings like an improvement in his walk rate and his strikeout rate.
His baserunning in the minors was never anything to write home about but has also improved in the last three years. Over his minor league career Barnes has 72 steals in 107 chances; The last three years he has 46 steals in 59 chances. That's a significant improvement in his stolen base percentage.
Offensively, there's some things to be optimistic about but he is an older player in terms of prospects and this could just be hitting his prime. I wouldn't be surprised if he hits closer to what he did last year. Still, Barnes embodies the inspirational and motivational movement Bo Porter has instilled in his clubhouse: work hard, give max effort and win. One of the things I noted last year after Barnes was called up was that he wasn't intimidated by his lack of experience or talent. After one particular play on the base paths, Barnes was called safe on a steal or double, I don't particularly remember, but after the play he got up and motioned towards the dugout encouraging his teammates to keep it going.
I would love to see him keep it going at the major league level. More highlight reel catches would be a good thing for Astros fans.