MESA, Ariz. – Franklin Barreto usually enters a game in the middle to late innings, the time in a Cactus League exhibition when fans’ attention can start to drift.
But the A’s No. 1 prospect is quickly becoming the type of player nobody wants to miss. In four games, the young shortstop has homered twice and turned a flashy double play. His impressive play, and the confidence with which he’s handled himself around established big leaguers, suggests Barreto could arrive in the Major Leagues as early as next season despite having just turned 20.
“I think I’m more impressed by (his poise) than anything else,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “The talent level speaks for itself. …. I love to see the confidence , and he definitely has that.”
Case in point: Barreto’s first session with Bay Area media on Tuesday. With reliever Fernando Rodriguez translating for him, Barreto was asked which player he grew up admiring. He mentioned two-time American League MVP – and fellow Venezuelan – Miguel Cabrera.
“Miguel Cabrera, that’s the guy I always kept an eye on. The type of player he is,” Barreto said. “I always wanted to be at his level or better. In my head, I’m always trying to be better than he is.”
Can’t fault a young player for aiming high.
“I’ll take Cabrera (production) right now,” Melvin said with a grin.
Barreto has confidence, but not arrogance, according to third baseman Matt Chapman, a teammate with Single-A Stockton last season. Chapman recalls a mini-slump Barreto fell into his last season. He says Barreto kept his chin up, kept working hard and was back to banging out hits before long.
“He’s one of the most complete hitters I’ve played with,” Chapman said. “To be 19 years old and hit .300 in high ‘A’ is a pretty special thing to do. He has sneaky power. He has a good middle-of-the-field approach, really mature approach for how young he is. If he beats the ball into the ground, he’s a threat to beat it out. He can absolutely fly. He’s the complete package. ”
Perhaps the most encouraging thing for A’s officials through 2½ weeks of spring training is the promise being shown by a strong core of touted prospects. That group includes Barreto, Chapman, left-hander Sean Manaea, first baseman Matt Olson, shortstop Richie Martin and third baseman Renato Nunez.
Barreto, Oakland’s No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America and mlb.com, is not an imposing figure at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds. He hit .302 last season, and with speed and the ability to handle the bat, A’s director of player development Keith Lieppman thinks Barreto has the tools to be a great No. 2 hitter in the majors.
But Barreto also hit 13 home runs in just 90 games last season (he missed time with a left wrist injury). Melvin said he’s been impressed with Barreto’s power.
“You look at the numbers and you’d say, ‘Yeah, he’s got some power,’” Melvin said. “Then you watch him take batting practice, and it’s kind of surprising power for his stature. But it is definitely there.”
Scouts around the game have speculated that Barreto may best be suited for second base long-term. The A’s like their young players to gain versatility, and Barreto was enthusiastic about getting to play center field this past offseason in the Venezuelan Winter League.
“I grew up as a center fielder,” Barreto said. “When (the Blue Jays) signed me they moved me over to short. I like doing both, but wherever they want me to play, I’m going to do my best.”
Melvin definitely thinks Barreto can stick at shortstop.
“All the actions I’ve seen, he’s a true shortstop,” the manager said. “… When you bring a 19, 20-year-old to camp and it’s his first big leauge camp, you’re gonna keep him at the position he’s most comfortable at. He looks to be a true shortstop.”