The Cincinnati Reds announced this afternoon that they have called up shortstop Jose Barrero from Triple-A Louisville. He’s coming up because the team had to place outfielder Jesse Winker on the 10-day injured list after he injured his intercostal muscle in Sunday’s game against the Phillies.
The big question of what to expect from Jose Barrero centers around playing time. For that question I simply do not have an answer. David Bell, and likely Nick Krall, are going to have something to say about that and I’m not either of them and have not seen any statements from them on how much playing time will go to Barrero. What I will do is quote myself from what I wrote at Redleg Nation earlier today when the new first broke:
Jose Barrero is the future shortstop of the Cincinnati Reds. He’s absolutely been killing the ball in the minor leagues this season. He’s the best defender at the shortstop position in the organization. No sanely run organization would, or should default to a 31-year-old who has had one good month at the plate in his entire career over a stud top rated 23-year-old prospect who has killed the ball in Triple-A – which we wrote about just a few days ago. This is where you hand the keys to Barrero and let him show you that he’s not the answer before you take them back from him.
What we can do, though, is look at what Jose Barrero has done in the minor leagues this season and try to project forward what he can be expected to do if he’s given playing time.
In the field I don’t think there’s going to be much of a difference from the minors to the Major Leagues. Defense translates in ways that offense doesn’t. He’s going to be an above-average defender who has both range and a laser-rocket arm.
It’s at the plate where there are likely some questions from some, mostly because of what they saw in 2020 from Jose Barrero – then Jose Garcia – at the plate. Barrero didn’t have a single extra-base hit and he had just one walk in his five weeks with the Reds last season. To say it was a struggle would be an understatement. But there was a lot being asked of Barrero, too. He had never played in a game above Advanced-A in the minor leagues when he was brought up to play last season. While he did get at-bats at the alternate site, that’s not quite the same thing. You constantly see the same pitchers and those pitchers can’t attack you the same way as they would if you weren’t their teammate. They are going to be more careful on the inside because they don’t want to hit you.
This season we saw Jose Barrero begin the year in Double-A. He was only there for 40 games because he hit .300/.367/.481 with 9 doubles, a triple, and 6 home runs. That was enough for the organization to move him up to Triple-A. Funny enough, he’s also now played in 40 games with Louisville and his offensive output has been even better. The 23-year-old has hit .305/.389/.584 with 10 doubles, a triple, and 11 home runs for the Bats. Louisville also happens to be one of the more pitcher friendly ballparks in all of Triple-A.
Before taking a deeper dive into things let’s talk about the overall expectations. It’s not likely that Jose Barrero is a .300 hitter right now. His BABIP in the minors this season is .355, and while a very small number of players can routinely carry a BABIP that high, expecting someone to do so is unwise until they’ve proven that they are the exception to that rule in the big leagues. But he’s the kind of hitter who should be able to hit at least .250 out of the gate, if not a little bit better. He’s also stolen 15 bases this season in 80 games. Billy Hamilton he isn’t, but he’s an above-average runner who should provide some value on the bases.
There are going to be some strikeouts – he’s struck out 23% of the time this year in Triple-A (23% is also the MLB average rate of strikeouts in 2021). But there’s also a chance he’s going to have some walks, too. His walk rate went up when he arrived in Triple-A, and even in Double-A it was up quite a bit from where he had been at previously in his career. With Louisville he was walking 10% of the time he came to the plate.
It’s the power, though, that has been the biggest breakthrough in 2021 for Jose Barrero. He hit eight home runs in 104 games for then Advanced-A Daytona. This season he’s clobbered 17 home runs in just 80 games. He’s gotten bigger and stronger – even since you last saw him in the big leagues about a year ago.
If we’re going to try to compare him to the guy in the big leagues last season, it’s pretty simple: He’s gotten much better at judging the strikezone, he’s walking more, striking out less, and he’s hitting for power like he’s never done so before.
If we want to dive into the details a little bit more and get refined, we can (and should) do that. Despite being a right-handed hitter, Jose Barrero has hit right-handed pitching significantly better this season than left-handed pitching. Against righties he’s hit .316/.391/.581 with 23 walks and 51 strikeouts in 249 plate appearances. Against lefties he’s hit just .273/.348/.424 with 11 walks and 31 strikeouts in 112 plate appearances.
Those splits are a little bit deceiving, though. Since joining Louisville he’s hit both lefties and righties well. In 57 plate appearances at the Triple-A level against lefties he is hitting .306/.404/.531 with seven walks and 15 strikeouts. Against righties he’s hitting .305/.382/.610 with 11 walks and 27 strikeouts in 123 plate appearances.
There has been another interesting change from Jose Barrero since he arrived in Triple-A: His ground ball rate has gone done in a big way. While at Double-A Chattanooga he had a ground ball rate of 41%. That’s roughly an average ground ball rate. But since he’s been in Louisville that rate has dropped to 30%. He is putting the ball in the air a lot more often, and as a result he’s been hitting for a lot more power.
There’s a lot going on in the stats for Jose Barrero. And almost all of it suggests that what we’ve seen is a very talented baseball player who simply wasn’t ready for the big leagues last year head to the minor leagues in 2021 and make big time improvements within his game. As Triple-A Louisville manager Pat Kelly told C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic over the weekend, “I see a star in the making.”
Same, Pat Kelly. Same.