When the Astros selected Matthew Barefoot out of Campbell in 2019, he was mainly interesting as an oddity- he played for a team called the Camels, he batted righty and threw lefty, and had a super-funky setup in the box, which can be seen below, featuring a wide-open stance and lots of pre-swing motion. In general, this level of funk would be seen as a blemish, but Barefoot managed to post a OPS figures over .900 in all of his college seasons AND his Cape Cod League appearance using the unorthodox approach, evidence of terrific hand-eye coordination. As a result, some clubs (including the Astros) likely felt that they might be able to tap into greater upside by simplifying Barefoot’s movements, which gave his profile some intrigue.
The momentum was dashed when he made his pro debut later in 2019. Barefoot, assigned to the age and experience appropriate NYPL, was an unmitigated disaster. He scuffled to a .155/.241/.169 slash line with 17 strikeouts in 79 plate appearances, hardly what anyone wanted to see from an accomplished college bat in his first taste. His outstanding Cape stint, in which he hit .379/.474/.521, had served to allay concerns about the level of competition he faced in the Big South prior to the draft, but the short-season struggles caused such questions to resurface. As a result, during the COVID-19 layoff, Barefoot became all but a forgotten man, left off more or less every Astros prospect list in 2020.
In 2021, though, Barefoot has made it clear that he learned from his struggles and made good use of his time off. Given a starting role with Fayetteville to start the year, he compiled a .344/.392/.625 line with 4 homers in 16 games to earn a swift promotion, and while it’s important not to overreact to hot streaks from older players in the low minors, the way he came about those numbers also impressed onlookers. As you may have guessed, Barefoot has significantly simplified his setup in full-season ball:
The above swing, from a game on May 22nd prior to his promotion, resulted in a home run, and while I don’t have any available video from his Campbell days with the same camera angle, there are some obvious differences worth noting. The stance no longer starts wide open, for one, and the hand path is significantly simplified. Even in his college days, the swing itself was pretty simple once he got into position, and now he’s able to ready himself much more efficiently, without sacrificing any of the barrel accuracy or springy power that helped him succeed as an amateur. The results produced by these changes have been outstanding, and they have Barefoot hitting for more pop than at any point previously to boot. The offensive eruption puts Barefoot’s disastrous NYPL stint in a new light - where before it looked like he may have been overmatched jumping from the Big South into pro play, it now looks more like the Astros started working with him on aggressive changes right out of the gates, which led to some initial struggles. The long layoff that ensued allowed Barefoot to implement those adjustments fully, and now he’s been able to implement them in a game setting to great effect.
The long term projection here is still a little murky. Barefoot is sort of an outfield tweener- as of now he plays primarily center, and as mentioned above he’s at least an above-average runner whose range plays okay out there. If he can provide solid defense there at the highest level, his bat could conceivably meet the offensive bar, but he may be a better fit as a left fielder where it’s unlikely his average power will be enough to profile, unless the hit tool reaches another gear. The mostly likely long term role is probably as a fourth outfielder capable of playing all three positions passably (albeit with a bit less range than would be ideal for center, and a bit less arm than would be ideal for right) with enough power and speed to impact games, but those types of players can be difference makers for a big league club when their depth is tested, and there’s a chance Barefoot could be a bit more than that if he stays on an upward trajectory. The season is still young, but the combination of improved performance and promising video has solidly moved Barefoot up a tier on my rankings, and I’m excited to see where he goes from here.