OAKLAND — Franklin Barreto’s second home run of the season wasn’t particularly long. The three-run shot in the first inning of Saturday’s 13-2 win over the Chicago White Sox went just 396 feet, but he hit it just as hard as phenom Ramon Laureano hit a 430-foot bomb on Friday night.
One week after manager Bob Melvin said that he’d be the starting second baseman moving forward, Barreto jumped on a 1-1 curve from White Sox starter reliever Ross Detweiler and sent it screaming onto the stairs beyond the left field wall at 107.5 mph, capping the A’s first seven-run first inning since 2014.
Part of a prospect group that included Laureano, Matt Olson and Matt Chapman, Barreto has never gotten an extended Major League opportunity, maligned for his high strikeout numbers. While his contemporaries have gotten their long looks and became big league stars, he’s gotten only glimpses. At 23, this upcoming stretch may not be his last shot, but it will be his best yet, and he began it with a home run and a seven-pitch walk.
Barreto’s bomb in his first at-Bay in five days closed the book on starter Dylan Covey, who retired just two of eight batters. After back-to-back doubles by Marcus Semien and Chapman, Covey issued a pair of walks and gave up a two-run single to Robbie Grossman and an RBI single to Chris Herrmann before exiting. He gave way to Detweiler, who surrendered Barreto’s shot, giving Chris Bassitt (6 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 6 Ks) all the run support he needed.
“It’s the biggest hit of the game,” Melvin said. “It was a big hit, and it doesn’t surprise us.”
Barreto — at one time baseball’s No. 40 overall prospect, acquired in the Josh Donaldson trade — has always had pop and speed, but he’s struggled to show them in tight, pressure-filled cameos with the A’s over the last three seasons, where the only guarantee has been his return to the minors.
Barreto has been up and down nine times since 2017, blocked by All-Star Jed Lowrie and Jurickson Profar. Aside from September call-ups, the longest continuous time he’d spent in the big leagues was 17 days last June, when he played in 12 games, hitting .244 (11-for-45) with three homers and three doubles. Outside of that, he’s hit .180 in the majors.
The biggest knock against him at the big league level had been strikeouts — a 41.4% K-rate — combined with a 3.4% walk rate, but with Profar hitting just .212 in the first half, the A’s decided it was time for Barreto to get a prolonged look.
“It’s obviously difficult going up and down,” Barreto said through interpreter Fernando Alcala after Saturday’s game. “Now that they’ve given me this opportunity, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
In his first seven games at the big league level this season before the All-Star break, Barreto hit .087 with 10 strikeouts. On Saturday, two at-bats after jumping on a misplaced curve, he laid off two close pitches and fouled off two more during a seven-pitch walk.
While he’s never been a very patient hitter in the minor leagues, Barreto has been at least more selective, with a 7.2% walk rate. In 2,630 minor league plate appearances, he’s struck out just 23.1% of the time, hit .289, and slugged .479 with an OPS of .352. That’s much more in line with Olson (18 home runs), Chapman (21 home runs) and Laureano (16 home runs).
“He’s a very talented guy,” Melvin said. “It’s about getting him some playing time, getting him comfortable and letting his talent level take over … I think when you’re a younger player and you get an opportunity in the big leagues, sometimes you can be too aggressive.”
Olson — who drove in a run in the four-run fourth with a single to right — had arguably a clearer path than Barreto, but he, too, had strikeout problems early on. He was sent down six times between his first call-up in September of 2016 and when he was called up for good on August 8, 2017, never spending more than three weeks with the team. He struck out 37% of the time over his first four call-ups in 2017.
When he came up for good that August, Olson hit 20 homers and struck out just 38 times in 152 plate appearances — a 25% K-rate. Now, he’s the starting first baseman and is among the league leaders with 18 homers.
Barreto started this year at Triple-A Las Vegas, and in 318 plate appearances, he walked a career-high 10.1% of the time, with a 24.8% K-rate, earning Pacific Coast League Player of the Month honors for June by hitting .387 with six stolen bases, nine homers, 13 doubles, 32 RBIs and 25 runs scored.
“It’s just a matter of focusing on swinging at good pitches that you can actually take advantage of, and the pitches you want to swing at, not the pitches the pitcher wants you to swing at,” Barreto said.
He was called up to replace a floudering Profar on June 30.
Said Melvin: “I think, given the opportunity, once he gets hot, we’ll see what Franklin Barreto has to offer.”