Fueled by Cuban heritage, Barrero eyes stateside breakout

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- During the past week, Jose Barrero spent time watching Cuba in the World Baseball Classic and hopes to one day represent the country that he adores. He still talks to his family back home daily, which fuels him to keep developing his game.

For now, he is chasing his dream in the United States and working around the clock to live up to the hype he had when the Reds signed him for nearly $5 million.

“They are really happy about everything I’ve done and my work ethic,” Barrero said about his family in Cuba, prior to the Reds’ 8-0 loss to the Brewers Monday afternoon at Goodyear Ballpark. “Thanks to them, I made it here too.”

The infielder’s Cuban heritage is important to him, as he was born in Havana, Cuba.

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Barrero signed with Cincinnati in 2017 as an international free agent, and back then he went by the name José Garcia. It wasn’t until May of 2021 that he changed his last name to honor his mother, Tania Barrero, who passed away from a COVID-19-related illness.

Two months later, Barrero crushed a 462-foot home run at Coors Field in the All-Star Futures Game. As he rounded the bases, he pointed up at the sky with a smile on his face, paying tribute to his mother.

“It means a lot to me,” Barrero told MLB.com in Spanish. “It was one of the most emotional events of my life, especially with everything she’s done for me. I take a lot of honor playing in honor of her name.”

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Barrero has struggled since his early introduction to the Majors in the shortened 2020 season. At the time, his highest level of experience was High-A, but with the Minor League season canceled, the Reds felt confident enough in his defense to have him make the jump to the Majors. In 93 games from 2020-22, he slashed .170/.215/.223 with 15 RBIs, while he struck out in 42 percent of his at-bats.

“Things haven’t gone well for me in the past two years,” Barrero said. “But that’s baseball, there are highs and lows. The important thing is how to get back up, and that’s what I’m doing. The Reds have confidence in me, and I’m super happy that they believe in me. I’m always going to give my best.”

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After playing winter ball in Puerto Rico this offseason, Barrero worked with Reds hitting coach Joel McKeithan on transitioning from having a big leg kick before his swing to a toe tap. The goal of this adjustment is to improve his balance, bat and pitch selection.

“He's able to translate the work he's done in the game, and that's all that matters,” Reds manager David Bell said. “The way the ball is coming off the bat is different right now than it was last year. And he's done it in the past, so we know he's capable of it. So it's good to see him getting back on track.”

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Even with all of that hard work at the plate, there’s lots of competition at the shortstop position for Barrero.

Elly De La Cruz, the Reds' No. 1 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 10 overall prospect, has been impressive this spring with his speed and switch-hitting ability. De La Cruz, 21, had a power surge in ‘22 when he combined for 28 home runs in High-A and Double-A.

Kevin Newman, who came over in a trade with the Pirates in November of ‘22, has slashed .260/.303/.357 in five Major League seasons and has hit safely in four of his last six spring games.

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Williamson eyeing Opening Day rotation spot
Bell said the top three spots in the rotation will go to Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft, respectively. That leaves a competition for the two remaining spots.

Brandon Williamson’s goal is to be part of the rotation come Opening Day. On Monday, the Reds’ No. 10 prospect gave up three earned runs on four hits and two walks in 2 1/3 innings, ballooning his spring ERA to 9.00.

“Today doesn’t set him back in any way,” Bell said. “He's in a good position in his career just because of who he is, and he's got a long way to go.”

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