Opportunity arises sooner than expected for A’s prospect
OAKLAND — Tucked in the far corner of the clubhouse, his green-and-gold cap barely peeking out from above the black executive chair that sits in front of Franklin Barreto’s locker, the Oakland Athletics’ shortstop of the future is easy to miss.
Out on the field, he’s anything but.
The one-time centerpiece of the Josh Donaldson trade is the youngest player on the A’s roster by about two years.
“We know a lot about him,” manager Bob Melvin says of the 21-year-old phenom. “We’ve seen him the last couple of springs. He has a very high profile and spotlight on him.”
The bright lights are nothing new for Barreto. The shortstop and sometimes second baseman was just 18 years old when he was the crown jewel in the Donaldson return.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure,” Barreto explained via interpreter Juan Dorado when asked what it was like to be at the center of such a famous trade at such a young age.
“I just think he has his game. I have my game,” Barreto continued. “And I’m really just here to do my job, which is help the team do what it’s supposed to do and help the team win. I’m not worried about the stuff that happened in the past.”
Injuries — namely to Marcus Semien and Chad Pinder — have hastened the super prospect’s already ultra-fast rise to the Coliseum.
Just over a week ago, Barreto was eating a postgame meal at First Tennessee Park — home of the Triple-A Nashville Sounds — when his manager Ryan Christenson approached. Christenson asked if Barreto was ready to play in the big leagues. The infielder said he was, and the manager replied by telling Barreto to pack his bags because he was headed to Chicago to meet the A’s.
The next day, he collected his first major league hit. A towering home run.
“[In] his first game, he hits a home run [and] does some of those things you almost kind of expect out of him, even though you can’t expect too much out of a 21-year-old kid at this point,” Melvin said.
Even though he’s listed at just 5-foot-10, the right-handed hitter has the kind of upper-cut swing and easy power to boom the ball out of any park. Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, Barreto modeled his game after one of the greatest hitters of this generation and a fellow countryman: Miguel Cabrera.
“I’ve always kind of followed in his footsteps — the way he plays, the way he goes about his game,” Barreto said of the Detroit Tigers first baseman. “I just love the way he hits.”
In Oakland, Barreto leans on Yonder Alonso, the A’s first baseman. Renowned for his work ethic, Alonso hails from Cuba and is bilingual.
“Ever since I got here, he’s been a huge help,” Barreto said. “He’s been guiding me and helping me with anything that he can do for me. He’s also been helping me a little bit with my English.”
The most important piece of advice that Alonso has dished out is to always try to stay one step ahead.
“He always tells me to keep working hard,” Barreto said. To make adjustments fast. To make adjustments whenever I can and just go about working hard day-in and day-out.”
Just over a week into his major-league journey, Barreto is quickly learning just how fast those adjustments need to be made. The young infielder went 2-for-5 in each of his first two games before going 0-for-11 in the final three contests of the A’s recent trip.
“He’s struggled a little bit recently, but we still feel good about him,” Melvin said. “We like him at both short and second. He’s played both those positions. We know he’s going to swing the bat — sometimes it’s a little adjustment at the big-league level and we understand that.”
Melvin recognizes that Barreto is far from a finished product. In the opening months of 2017, his tendency to swing and miss was a noteworthy issue. Barreto struck out 92 times in 68 games for the Sounds. Last year, he struck out 94 times in 123 games.
With Semien around the midpoint in his rehab assignment, Pinder on the mend from his hamstring strain and Jed Lowrie still locking down second base, the middle-infield situation will soon get crowded.
There’s no telling how long Barreto’s current run with the club will last, but this cameo can only help in the big picture.
“It’s just good to have him here,” Melvin said. “The more he can play, the more experiences he gets because once he’s here for good, he’s going to be a heck of a player.”