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Is Colin Barber a Hidden Top Prospect?

An exciting overslot sign in the 2019 draft, Barber has been limited to just over 100 games since his debut due to injury, but has progressed nonetheless. Is he a healthy campaign away from national recognition?

2021 Houston Astros Photo Day Photo by Adam Glanzman/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Colin Barber’s baseball story began in far-north Chico, CA, outside of the state’s hottest scouting areas, but nonetheless generated a lot of interest pretty early in his career thanks to impressive measurables that stood out in a showcase setting. The most obvious trait was his plus speed- Barber was and remains both sudden and fast, and is so with a broad, strong frame, giving him an enticing athletic profile for the diamond. He also demonstrated twitch in the box, with a quick trigger and lots of bat speed, giving him several avenues to value as a position player. He was expected to move on to Pac-12 ball with Oregon after an injury-riddled senior season, but the Astros were enamored enough with his potential to offer him a seven figure bonus to dissuade him, and he accepted.

Barber made a 28-game pro debut in the GCL in his draft year, and showed a taste of what made him so appealing to the Astros with a .263/.387/.394 slash and 16% walk rate against 24% strikeouts. The power was minimal at this point, but evaluators felt it could come with adjustment and physical development. Despite the lack of both amateur and pro data, scouts and the media were bullish on him at this stage, and he quickly shot into the upper tiers of organizational rankings at a time when they had thinned out due to graduations and trades. Unfortunately, it would be difficult for Barber to build on his strong start for some time. He, along with the rest of minor league baseball, lost the 2020 season, and the injury bug would strike him again in 2021, as an early shoulder problem ended up requiring season-ending surgery.

Evaluators had little choice but to be conservative with Barber given his difficulty staying on the field, but continued to note his upside prior to the 2022 season. While he wasn’t able to turn in the full, healthy season he would’ve liked last year- he missed fairly significant time with a shoulder strain midseason- but was able to log a career-high 63 games and 260 PAs in his return to Asheville. The results were strong beyond availability, as well- he recorded a .298/.408/.450 slash with a tidy 21.9% strikeout rate, connecting on 7 HR and going 7 of 11 on SB attempts, rotating fairly evenly between all three outfield spots. He was able to produce at a fairly high level despite implementing some significant swing adjustments aimed at generating more lift. The batted ball profile wasn’t immediately boosted by these changes, but his ability to maintain such a healthy contact rate while tinkering in the box was impressive nonetheless.

Despite his tumultuous run through the minors thus far, Barber will play the entire 2023 season at age 22 while starting at Double-A, putting him on a healthy timeline. Obviously, health remains a key for him going forward, but perhaps the only performance-related obstacle between him and Top 100 consideration is greater power utilization. Despite some real juice in his bat, a spotty batted ball profile has limited that area of his game thus far. This may be a feature of his swing and approach, but I have some real hope that it’s also a product of his low experience level relative to his peers. There is little doubt that his robust contact ability can translate to the upper minors, and they did in his season debut last night, in which he went 1 for 2 with a pair of walks. Barber’s ability to generate more pull-side pop will determine whether he projects as a solid regular in the 2-3 WAR range, or a roaming 4th outfielder- with significant progress in this area, his stock can quickly reach new heights.