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Barnes makes the most of his offseason

HOUSTON -- Considering how much passion Brandon Barnes displays while playing baseball, it's no surprise he was a hit with the fans in Caracas, Venezuela, during his month-long stint in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason.

Barnes, a high-flying outfielder who made his Major League debut for the Astros earlier this year, appeared in 28 games for Caracas and hit .292 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 28 games. He had 31 hits, including three doubles and three triples.

Barnes' top goal in Venezuela was to refine his approach at the plate, become more disciplined and see more pitches.

"I felt like I was doing my job, seeing as many pitches as I could and battling and working out of two-strike counts," he said. "I felt more comfortable with two-strike counts. Toward the end, I put everything together and put my aggressive approach with my patience, and I really felt it worked out. I'm going to benefit next year by doing that."

He returned home to California last month, already eager for the 2013 season but with some great remembrances of his time in Venezuela.

"It all starts with the atmosphere and the fans," he said. "For me, it felt a bit like a soccer game. There's 30,000 people [in the stands], and everybody is standing up and yelling and screaming. It's really loud during the game, and when a big situation comes up, it gets even louder."

Playing in such an intense atmosphere can only help Barnes next season, when he's expected to compete for a spot on the Astros' roster in Spring Training. He played the final month of the season in Houston, hitting .204 with one homer and seven RBIs.

Barnes hit a combined .321 with 12 homers, 69 RBIs and 21 stolen bases last season while splitting time between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City. He made his Major League debut Aug. 7, and a week later, he hit his first Major League homer, a pinch-hit shot off the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija.

"That's my goal, is to win a job and be an everyday outfielder for the Astros," he said. "I'm going to work my butt off these next three months and never stop grinding. It's been my dream since I was little, and I'm going to leave it all on the field."

Leaving it all on the field has never been a problem for Barnes, who plays the game about as hard as anyone. He made a series of fantastic diving catches in the outfield last year and admitted he even wooed the crowd in Caracas, too.

"I made one," he said. "It was pretty much the exact same catch I made in St. Louis."

The hardest part for Barnes was leaving his wife and baby in the U.S., but his brother-in-law and best friend made the trip with him. They were pretty much confined to his hotel when he wasn't playing, but that didn't dampen the experience.

This was the third consecutive year Barnes played winter ball, appearing in the Arizona Fall League in 2010 and playing in Australia last year. Nothing compares to Venezuela, though.

"It was a blast playing baseball," he said. "I feel like I learned even more than I learned the last couple of years playing winter ball. I kind of went out there with an open mind and had fun."

Houston Astros, Brandon Barnes