Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’17 — #50 Jacob Barnes
50. Fifty. Five-zero.
Round numbers. Baseball loves its round numbers. 3000 hits. 500 home runs. 20 wins. 100 RBI. 30/30 seasons. 200 innings pitched. 90 feet between bases. This is a beautiful game of numbers.
In any lengthy counting (up or down), round numbers are the milestones. 49 seems significantly less than 50 due to that all important first digit. So let’s put the 50s to bed as this countdown trudges through February.
The man holding down number 50 these days is…
I first had the pleasure of talking to Jacob Andrew Barnes for a piece I wrote about groups of players winning together as they advance through the minors. Barnes was a member of the 2012 Midwest League Champion Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and was going to have the opportunity to win a Double-A championship with the Biloxi Shuckers in 2015.
At the time, Barnes told me that learning how to win in the minor leagues can make a difference. After all, winning isn’t a bad thing and this game humbles you enough that there are plenty of life lessons about how to deal with losing.
Barnes has done a fair amount of winning when he’s been on the bump in his time as a professional.
Originally drafted in the 14th round of the 2011 draft out of Florida Gulf Coast University, Barnes has had a typically steady rise since. 2011 was in Helena with the Rookie Ball affiliate. That special 2012 season was already mentioned. 2013 was spent entirely at Class A-Advanced. Barnes would break camp in 2014 back with High-A but would only spend three games there, and was promoted in one week to Double-A (Huntsville at the time).
A full season of Double-A ball was in store for Barnes in 2015 with a trip to the Arizona Fall League afterward. Barnes would then spend, coincidentally, three games in Double-A to open 2016 before a quick promotion to Class-AAA Colorado Springs. From there he was called up to the big leagues and made his debut on June 3rd.
So that’s when it all happened. As to the how and why, Barnes’ worst single-season ERA was a 4.06 in 2014 when he got his first taste of Double-A. Many a player has said that the biggest jump in the minor leagues in terms of level of competition is that from A+ to AA. Barnes undoubtedly felt that.
Even with that adjustment, Barnes has consistently gotten better and better. His strikeout rate has been high, he’s kept his WHIP low, and in 441.2 career innings pitches he’s allowed just 32 home runs (and that includes the one he gave up in 26.2 IP in the big leagues last year).
Barnes works with a three-pitch arsenal too so he’s got plenty for the bullpen from that aspect. His four-seam fastball sits 95–96 MPH, his slider works 89–90, and a developing curve keeps left-handed hitters slightly more honest.
So let’s put all that together:
Three pitches, great peripherals supporting strong results-based numbers, he keeps runners off base pretty well and keeps the ball in the yard.
Gee, I wonder why the Brewers like him so much?
About the only thing you can point to that Barnes still has significant room to improve on are his splits against those pesky left-handed hitters. In 49 chances against lefties, Barnes allowed a slash line of .318/.388/.432. They also got that aforementioned lone dinger. Compare that to the RHHs slash against which was .185/.196/.241 in 57 plate appearances. That .437 OPS is drool-inducing.
Both of those numbers are small sample sizes, but they are also both against the best crop of hitters in the world. Barnes will continue to learn and continue to make adjustments, so it stands to reason that there yet exists space between his head and his ceiling.
The blemish on his 2016 came in the form of elbow soreness, enough to land him on the disabled list from July 27th until September 2nd. But even that was put to bed after Barnes worked 12 games from September 2nd through the end of the season.
The Brewers see Barnes as a future back-end reliever with closer potential. Between then and now we ought to see Barnes working in high-leverage situations more often than not, especially against right-handed hitters.
For 2017, I think Barnes could buck the trend of the inexperienced guy with minor league options getting pushed out. His 2016 was that strong. If he doesn’t break camp in the big league bullpen he’ll still log plenty of innings in a Brewers uniform before the new season is all said and done.
Follow Jacob on Twitter: @j_barnes30
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