Is Barreto ready for breakout year?

July 14th, 2020

OAKLAND -- When responding to questions on which hitters have stood out through the first week of Summer Camp, A’s players and coaches have constantly singled out .

He immediately made his presence felt on the first day of live batting practice on Tuesday, taking Frankie Montas deep for a home run. A couple of days later, Barreto blasted a homer off Liam Hendriks in a simulated game. While pitchers are expected to be ahead of the hitters this early in camp, Barreto continues to give pitchers trouble.

“For a while there, it was Barreto 2 and everybody else 0,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He swung the bat very well right away and hit home runs off two pretty good pitchers. He’s looked the best probably at the plate.

“We’re only talking about six to eight at-bats for each guy to this point, but sometimes you just get a good at-bat and it kind of snowballs from there.”

The hot streak to open camp falls right in line with what Barreto was doing in the Cactus League, where he was 11-for-36 with four doubles, two triples and four RBIs before the stoppage due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s almost become an annual tradition for Barreto to heat up during the preseason, as he also slashed .351/.429/.541 in the 2019 Cactus League.

“Barreto has really jumped out,” A’s utility player Chad Pinder said. “It looks like he came straight from Spring Training to the season. He looks awesome.”

Once regarded as the top prospect in the organization, Barreto has had trouble finding a spot in the big leagues. He’s often been blocked by more established second basemen on the A’s roster, like Jed Lowrie in 2018 and Jurickson Profar last season. With Profar traded to the Padres during the offseason, second base has opened up, giving Barreto his best shot at regular playing time.

Established A’s like Pinder, Matt Olson and Matt Chapman know what Barreto is capable of. They’ve witnessed several of his tears at the plate coming up with him through the A’s Minor League system over the years. Now a 24-year-old who is out of Minor League options, the A’s are looking for Barreto to translate that success to the Majors.

“I’ve played with him for four or five years now. I’ve seen Frankie at his best,” Olson said. “He looks really good right now. We have a lot of guys who we can throw in there at second. It’s a good problem to have. Frankie is just cool and laid back. Two homers already, it’s what he does.”

During the baseball shutdown, Barreto went home to Orlando, Fla., and maintained a regular workout routine to stay in shape. Whether it was at a facility with fellow Venezuelan ballplayers Carlos González and Grégor Blanco or hitting against a net set up in his backyard, Barreto continued the slight adjustment he implemented during Spring Training -- he lowers his hands a bit, trying not to move them too much, so he can stay back to better recognize pitches.

“I focused on my hitting and staying consistent with my swing,” Barreto said of his time during the shutdown. “I’m just trying to keep that routine here to help the team win.”

For Barreto, he’s long proved himself as a dominant hitter in the Minor Leagues. The issues have come once he’s been called up to Oakland, where he’s hit just .189 over three big league seasons. The playing time has been inconsistent, and that might not change this season as he’s expected to begin the regular season in a platoon role with Tony Kemp at second. With a shortened 60-game schedule, Barreto is working on finding a rhythm that will allow him to remain locked in at the plate, even if he’s not playing every day.

“All my career, I’ve always started the season slowly before finding my rhythm,” Barreto said. “This year is different. I have to find a way to stay consistent every day with fewer games. I’ve been practicing a lot to find a way to stay in rhythm and comfortable at the plate.”