Switch-hitting Cincinnati Reds prospect Tucker Barnhart is an excellent defensive catcher. Tough as nails, he calls a good game as a steady and skillful shepherd to his pitchers.
But from what I have seen of Barnhart, his hitting will continue to improve, and he may become a factor at the plate as well as a dependable catcher.
Barnhart, ranked No. 11 on the Reds' Top 20 Prospects list, had considered attending Georgia Tech after graduating from Brownsburg (Ind.) High School. Instead, he signed a contract with Cincinnati after being selected by the club in the 10th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
I was able to scout Barnhart this past fall in the Arizona Fall League and again in Spring Training. His defense didn't disappoint.
In the Fall League, Barnhart played for the Glendale Desert Dogs, sharing the catching duties with the Dodgers' Chris O'Brien and Pratt Maynard. Barnhart played in 16 games and hit .245. He had three doubles among his 12 hits and walked nine times. Barnhart made good contact and struck out only seven times in 58 plate appearances.
Defensively, I saw extremely good footwork last fall and very advanced mechanics for a young man who was only 22 years old at the time. Barnhart's "pop time" and release, as he shifted the ball from glove to hand when preparing to throw out basestealers, was extremely quick. He displayed better-than-average carry on a strong, accurate arm. In a league that boasted excellent defensive catchers, including the Rangers' Jorge Alfaro, the Padres' Austin Hedges and the Giants' Andrew Susac, Barnhart's mechanics were discussed with similar enthusiasm as that highly rated trio.
Barnhart has played in parts of six Minor League seasons. Looking at his defense first, he has thrown out 42 percent of runners trying to steal against him in his 357 games played. Barnhart has a total of only 31 passed balls, with the most in one season being 13 in 2012. That's outstanding efficiency, and it illustrates the quick feet and great reactionary instincts I have seen.
Offensively, Barnhart has been far from an easy out. He has a Minor League batting average of .262 that covers 1,376 plate appearances. Barnhart has struck out only 224 times. His plate discipline, knowledge of the strike zone and pitch selectivity all reflect the fact he knows how pitchers think. Barnhart knows what pitchers like to throw in certain situations, and he takes that knowledge to the plate.
Most of Barnhart's hits will likely be singles, but he has a knack for using the entire field. He can hold his own hitting right-handed, but he is much better from the left side. Last season, Barnhart hit .280 against righties and .172 against lefties.
Barnhart does not have power to hit many home runs. He may hit one or two on occasion -- as he has done once already this season while playing for the parent Reds -- but that isn't part of his game. Power and speed are not at the forefront of Barnhart's tools.
Barnhart will find a niche by providing a steady hand while calling pitches. He will be an excellent field general from behind the plate, as he has the leadership qualities to go along with his baseball skills.
Barnhart made his Major League debut on April 3. After being with the big league club for three games, he was sent to Triple-A Louisville and recalled to Cincinnati on April 30; on Sunday, he was optioned back to Louisville to make room on the 25-man roster for pitcher Tony Cingrani.
Barnhart still has some refining left in his development. But he is one very fine defensive catcher.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.