How Barrero's offseason adjustments helped him earn starting SS job

March 28th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mark Sheldon’s Reds Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Throughout Spring Training, Reds shortstop Jose Barrero often toted an iPad on a strap over his shoulder. The device went with him just about everywhere.

“My life,” the Spanish-speaking Barrero said in English.

The iPad wasn’t with Barrero during workouts just so he could stream movies or binge watch a TV series like “Outer Banks.” It was for helping him improve as a hitter. The soon-to-be 25-year-old usually fixed his iPad on a tripod during batting practice so he could go back later and watch his swings. He also downloaded video of his plate appearances from games to watch his approach.

“I thank the coaches, I thank everyone on the staff on the Cincinnati Reds that have given me this new way of seeing all the stuff that I need to see in order to help my career blossom as it is,” Barrero said via translator Jorge Merlos. “I've just really focused on watching my videos. I just focus on everything that can help me get to where I am now.”

Barrero arrived at Reds camp with the starting shortstop job seemingly his to lose over veteran Kevin Newman. But that hinged on him being able to show he could hit consistently. In 93 games from 2020-22, Barrero was a .170 hitter. Last season, in 48 big league games, his strikeout rate was an unacceptable 43.7 percent. With Newman on the club and top prospect Elly De La Cruz waiting in the wings, this was a pivotal spring.

During the offseason and while working with hitting coach Joel McKeithan, Barrero incorporated several changes to his approach -- mainly involving eliminating a leg kick in favor of a toe tap. It continued to be a big focus for him this spring but initially, success was not coming.

Eventually, after a slow start, things started clicking. Barrero finished the Cactus League schedule batting .311/.380/.566 with one home run and 10 RBIs in 17 games.

“The adjustments he made at the plate have shown up,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He is more comfortable. His timing is better. His path to the ball is better. You want it so bad for him. Early in camp, he had a little bit of a tough stretch. Then like all good players, he made a pretty quick adjustment to get back on track. I thought that was probably the best sign.”

Making the changes wasn't easy but proved to be worth it. Barrero, who has a Minor League option left, broke camp with the team and will be on the Opening Day roster, likely starting at shortstop when the Reds play the Pirates.

“Of course, it’s always an adjustment with all of these changes at the same time,” Barrero said. “But now I feel like I’ve been swinging the bat like this my entire life. I feel much more comfortable with everything, with all the changes happening, I’m ready to get out there.”

Meanwhile, Barrero has played exceptional defense as well. He’s demonstrated even more range and has made some stunning plays. In one game, he threw out a runner at first base while seated on the infield dirt.

“It just comes from each and every year trying to learn more and more and more -- as much as you can,” Barrero said.

Barrero has also gotten some time in center field this spring. There will be games this season, especially when Cincinnati is opposed by a left-handed starter, that Barrero plays there while Newman is at shortstop to get more right-handed bats in the lineup.

“We actually learned from the way he plays center that we can improve how he moves at short,” Bell said. “His instincts and his first step were so good in center field that we actually studied that. It helped him apply that a little bit to how he’s played short. It’s made him more free, natural and athletic.”