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Barnhart eager to soak up knowledge

Catching prospect being tutored by veteran Miller

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- All expectations are that Reds top catching prospect Tucker Barnhart will begin the 2014 season at Triple-A Louisville. That, of course, will put Barnhart one rung down from the Majors and perhaps just one phone call away from a possible promotion.

Before the 23-year-old Barnhart can realize that dream and call his family and friends to make the two-hour drive from his hometown of Brownsburg, Ind., to fill Great American Ball Park to watch him, much work is left to be done.

"It's continuing to be consistent and just grow as a hitter," Barnhart said. "I need to continue to work defensively, get to know pitchers' styles and what they like to do in different spots of the game. It's going to allow me to mesh with them right away."

A 10th-round Draft pick of the Reds in 2009, Barnhart has become a familiar presence in the organization. This is his third big league camp, but first as a member of the 40-man roster. He's attended Redsfest each of the last three years and is a three-year fixture with broadcaster Marty Brennaman on the self-proclaimed "Rock Star" leg of the Reds Caravan tour.

"I feel like I've put myself in a good position," Barnhart said. "I feel like I've grown as a player on the field, but off the field as well. I'm very fortunate to be put in that situation. I've taken it and ran with it."

To help get him the rest of the way, Barnhart will be paired in Louisville with veteran catcher Corky Miller, who has long been held in high esteem in the organization for how he handles pitchers and the nuances of the position.

Miller, 37, will be a catching guru to Barnhart -- there to be a sounding board, to answer questions, to set an example, to just be there in general. It's something he's done for other catchers in the early parts of their careers, most recently for current Reds regular catcher Devin Mesoraco.

"It was the same thing that happened with Devin," Miller said. "It was not necessarily ball talk. It's communication from seeing each other, day in and day out. Hopefully it's more by example. I try to do everything right. I encourage him to ask me questions. It was tough for me, too, when you're pretty good at catching to pick someone else's brain. Sometimes you're afraid it might be different. He's a guy that likes to talk. He understands catching. It should be fun for us."

Barnhart expected not to be timid this season about approaching Miller, who has known him from spending past Spring Trainings together.

"He'll probably get sick of me and how many questions I'm going to ask. I'm very fortunate to able to learn from him," Barnhart said. "What some people don't realize with Corky is that his laid-back nature and everything is fantastic. But also it's how much he's teaching when that is going on. It's a very laid-back style but it's also 'You better get your stuff done or I am going to be all over you.'"

Barnhart can watch Miller's work ethic, show him how to handle being a backup catcher in the big leagues, if needed, monitor how he takes notes on pitchers and teach him how to react to situations.

Most of all, Barnhart can just gain experience from seeing more pitchers and hitters.

"You go to Triple-A and guys have different approaches at the plate," Miller said. "Some older guys have different philosophies on pitching, guys that maybe he hasn't caught on a regular basis. Usually, you have a little more command with the breaking pitches. You have little things that older guys would do that don't necessarily apply to A-ball or Double-A. The hitters' tendencies are a little more ingrained so it might be a little easier to set up hitters."

Last season with Double-A Pensacola, Barnhart batted .260 with a .348 on-base percentage in 98 games. He was second on the team with 19 doubles and third in RBIs. There were 45 walks and only 57 strikeouts.

Defensively, Barnhart successfully caught 37 percent of attempted basestealers. Baseball America named him the organization's 10th best prospect and its best defensive catcher. After the season, he was invited to play in the Arizona Fall League, which is often a stop for future Major Leaguers.

"It was big. Just being around that type of talent was huge," Barnhart said. "I think it really prepared me for camp this year. Going out here, you know those guys are the top prospects in baseball. There's a feeling like you belong and you're seeing you're as good, or better, than some of the guys out there. It was a confidence-builder for me."

The Reds are set with catchers at the big league level with Mesoraco and Brayan Pena. Early in the season, Miller could get tapped if there is an injury. But Miller isn't on the 40-man roster while Barnhart is. If he is the one needed, Barnhart wants to know as much about the Major League pitching staff as possible this spring.

"It's good. this being my third camp. to be around guys that I've gotten to know," Barnhart said. "I will continue to work with guys and get to know them and what their tendencies are so if. and when. that opportunity presents itself, that I'm ready to go."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.

Cincinnati Reds, Tucker Barnhart