Sunday Notes: Astros Prospect Matthew Barefoot Has Stepped Up His Game

Matthew Barefoot initially struggled to get a foothold in pro ball. A sixth-round pick by the Houston Astros in 2019 out of Campbell University, the now-23-year-old outfielder slashed a woeful .155/.241/.159 that summer in the New York-Penn League. On the heels of that abysmal debut, and with no 2020 minor league season in which to redeem himself, Barefoot was an afterthought on our 2021 Astros Top Prospect list.

He’s proceeded to make people stand up and take notice. Fueled by mechanical changes and a relaxed mental approach, Barefoot has been one of the best hitters in the Houston system this season. In 190 plate appearances split between the Low-A Fayetteville Woodpeckers and the High-A Asheville Tourists, the former Campbell Fighting Camel has socked a dozen home runs while slashing .329/.384/.618 with a 167 wRC+. Befitting his plus athleticism, he has 15 steals to boot.

Asked what was behind his his boffo numbers, Barefoot alluded to an age-old baseball adage: You can’t think and hit at the same time.

“This year, I’m able to just go out and play and let the results take care of themselves,” explained Barefoot. That’s been a real key for me. In my first season, I was working on a bunch of swing-mechanics stuff, so I really wasn’t competing how I wanted. I was more or less trying to make swing changes in-game, which made it really hard. Mentally, I wasn’t in a great spot every game.”

Organizations often don’t ask newly-drafted players to make meaningful adjustments until they report to instructional league. The initial months are mostly a hands-off acclimation period, allowing a player to simply get his feet wet in pro ball. That wasn’t the case with Barefoot.

“I had a really big, and loud, load in my college days,” explained Barefoot. “The Astros wanted me to quiet that down and make things a lot simpler. Throughout college, being different… it was harder to be simple, which is a weird thing to say. But it was a hard adjustment for me to be simple. I had to go against my muscle memory, and that caused me to think when I was at the plate. It’s hard to hit 95 [mph] with that going on.”

Barefoot explained that he used to be tall and narrow in his stance, and during his load he would kind of squat down on his back leg. There was also excessive head movement — down and then forward — which is the first thing the Astros worked with him to clean up. A smoothing out of his lower half followed.

As much as the changes were needed, Barefoot had logged a .995 OPS both as a collegian and in his one summer on the Cape. In 2018, he won the Cape Cod League batting title with a .379 average. Being asked to change what had always worked wasn’t exactly something he wanted to hear.

“I definitely had mixed feelings about it,” admitted Barefoot, who hails from Dunn, North Carolina. “I’m not going to lie about that. At the same time, I knew that if I wanted to play this game for a long time, they were changes that would have to happen. The more simple you can be, the more consistent you can be, so I spent the COVID offseason working on that every day. I was able to train a new muscle memory, and so far it’s been working out fine.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Don Castle went 2 for 4 against Mark Littell.

Peaches Graham went 3 for 4 against Roy Castleton.

Lou Chiozza went 12 for 17 against Slick Castleman.

Foster Castleman went 1 for 14 against Vinegar Bend Mizell.

Howdy Caton went 7 for 16 against Ferdie Schupp.

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There is a widely held perception that pitchers don’t command the ball as well as they used to. How true is that? I asked Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush for his opinion a handful of weeks ago — this was before the sticky-substance issue came to the fore — and he responded as follows:

“Well, I guess it depends on what you look at,” said Bush. “If you’re looking at wild pitches and hit batters, yeah, there’s definitely an argument to be made that command is not what it once was. I would also say the strike zone has probably tightened up a little bit — it’s certainly a different-shaped strike zone than it used to be. And pitcher’s stuff is better than it used to be.

“I think it would be unfair to suggest that pitchers are going to throw harder, have sharper stuff, have a tighter strike zone, and still maintain the same command they used to have. I don’t know if that’s realistic in the short term… but I think it’s started to shift back a little bit more towards command. It hasn’t necessarily shown up in the numbers yet.”

With the caveat that you need to comfortably grip a baseball in order to command it — that can of worms still needs to be adequately addressed — Bush’s belief that things are (or at least were) starting to shift back makes sense. Elite athletes are able to acclimate to changing conditions, so it’s simply a matter of time.

“The pitchers who are going to be successful are the ones that throw strikes and command the ball better,” said Bush. “It’s going to be similar to where the game was 15 years ago, just five mph harder.”

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A quiz:

John Franco made 695 pitching appearances with the New York Mets, the most in franchise history. Who ranks second in that category?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Josh Rawitch has been named President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Suggested as a top candidate for the position in a Sunday Notes column this past April, Rawitch has been Senior Vice President of Content and Communications with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the past six years.

Charlie Bennett has been selected as SABR’s overlooked 19th century baseball legend. One of the top catchers in his era, Bennett played for four teams, most notably the Detroit Wolverines, from 1878-1893. Details of his honor can be found here.

The Baseball For All National — the largest girls baseball tournament in the United States — will be held in Aberdeen, Maryland from July 18-22. Information can be found here.

Scott Reid, a longtime scout who’d been with the Detroit Tigers since 2002, died earlier this week at age 74. Reid’s 50-plus years in baseball included parts of two seasons as an outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies.

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The answer to the quiz is Pedro Feliciano, who made all 484 of his pitching appearances with the Mets between 2002-2013. The left-hander led NL pitchers in appearances in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

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Clayton Richard and fast-rising Yankees prospect Janson Junk were featured on this past Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio. Both weighed in on the sticky-substances issue, with Richard, who pitched in the big leagues from 2008-2019, sharing the more-detailed of the two perspectives. For those of you haven’t given the podcast a listen, here is what Richard had to say (quotes lightly edited for clarity):

“It’s a tough situation that a lot of pitchers have been thrown into, because there’s been an atmosphere, a culture, where it’s been accepted for a long time. I remember when I first came up, I didn’t know anything about that type of thing. [In] the bullpen… I saw guys with shaving cream. That was one of the first things. They’d spray shaving cream, and rub it on their hands to provide a little bit of tack. I saw it evolve throughout my career. You saw some guys that had a little container of something that was really sticky. And then the sun screen and rosin creates quite a bit of tack. So there was definitely an evolution, and it coincided with the ability to read spin rates and see how that affected the baseball. Those two things came together and created an advantage for pitchers. I don’t know that the middle of the season is the best time to address it, but it’s something that was inevitable. There needed to be something done to either make one substance universally acceptable or just get rid of it altogether.

“I never used rosin. I never went to a rosin bag, because growing up it was something that wasn’t out there. And with a football background I always licked my fingers, so I never liked anything on my fingers. The only time I tried something was a little bit of pine tar when we’d be in a super-dry place, because you can’t lick your fingers enough… I don’t know about the Spider Tack and the difference. But clearly there’s a difference, because as you see across the league right now, the average spin rates are dropping drastically, relative to what they were. When spin rate drops, depending on what pitch it is, and the orientation of the spin, the movement profile is also going to be adjusted.”

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FARM REPORT

Hoy Jun Park is slashing .318/.458/.554 between Double-A Somerset and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The 25-year-old infielder from Seoul, South Korea garnered honorable mention on our New York Yankees Top Prospects list.

Edouard Julien is slashing .291/.478/.448 between Low-A Fort Myers and High-A Cedar Rapids. An 18th-round pick out of Auburn University in 2019, the 22-year-old infielder — a native of Quebec — is No. 30 on our Minnesota Twins Top Prospects list.

Leo Jimenez is slashing .301/.447/.341 with Low-A Dunedin. A 20-year-old infielder from Chitre, Panama, Jimenez is No. 18 on our Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects list.

Angel Martinez is slashing .300/.380/.527 with Low-A Lynchburg. A 19-year-old switch-hitting infielder from Santo Domingo, Martinez — No. 11 on our Cleveland Indians Top Prospects list — is the son of former big-league catcher Sandy Martinez.

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Cincinnati Reds super-utility man Kyle Farmer has fond memories of his minor league days in the Midwest League. That includes memories of summertime in Michigan and Wisconsin. Springtime… not so much.

“It was freezing cold at the beginning,” said Farmer, an Atlanta native who spent the first half of the 2014 season with the Great Lakes Loons. “I remember the Latin players putting on every bit of clothing they had. They were also putting hot rub all over their bodies, trying to make themselves warmer, and it was actually burning their skin. That was kind of funny, although I was obviously pretty cold myself.

“I’d also never played baseball in the snow. I had my first snow-out in Beloit [Wisconsin] and while you learn how to adapt to things, that was still pretty wild. But once the cold broke — once we got into late spring, and then summer — it was great. It’s beautiful out there.”

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The Canadian Premier Baseball League, which was founded in 2015, began its season yesterday. Based in Ontario, the CPBL features the top amateur players from the province.

Per Tokyo-based scribe, Jim Allen, a total of 756 player ballots were cast for NPB’s All-Star game. The top vote-getter was Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks outfielder Yuki Yanagita, who was named on 573 ballots.

Kazuaki Tateno out-pitched Masahiro Tanaka to earn his first NPB win as the Nippon-Ham Fighters beat the Rakuten Golden Eagles 3-0 on Wednesday. The rookie right-hander was making his third career pitching appearances at Japan’s highest level.

Seunghwan Oh leads all KBO pitchers with 25 saves. The 38-year-old Samsung Lions right-hander pitched stateside from 2016-2019, most notably with the St. Louis Cardinals, for whom he logged 39 saves over two seasons.

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How many hitless innings merits no-hitter talk? I asked that question in a Twitter poll, and the results were as follows:

Five innings — 8.0%
Six innings — 44.4%
Seven innings — 40.1%
Eight innings — 7.4%

The fact that the above percentages total 99, and not 100, aside — that’s on Twitter, not yours truly — I think the results are reasonable. That said, my vote would have gone to seven innings. Prior to that point in a game, the statistical probability of a no-hitter is simply too low.

On a related note, the idea that pointing out that a pitcher is working on a no-hitter — this on a broadcast or on social media — will jinx it is pure folly. The Baseball Gods pay no heed to such things. They really don’t.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At Sports Illustrated, Emma Baccellieri wrote about how Colorado’s Germán Márquez lost a no-hit bid in the ninth inning, but achieved something that is arguably better.

At The San Diego Union-Tribune, Bryce Miller wrote about how Padres broadcasters, like many of their contemporaries around the game, are still calling road games remotely — and money is a big reason why.

Twenty years ago, a Triple-A slugger named Izzy Alcantara karate-kicked a catcher before charging the mound. The Athletic’s Chad Jennings looked back at the incident with quotes from many involved.

The Score’s Travis Sawchik made a case for radical realignment and the end of inter-league play.

FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine wrote about about Negro Leagues legend Bullet Rogan, who starred as a two-way player long before Shohei Ohtani.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield went into yesterday with 22 steals in 23 attempts. The Cincinnati Reds had 22 steals in 39 attempts.

Buster Posey’s double on Monday night was his 87th career hit at Dodger Stadium, second-most by a Giant, and one more than Willie Mays. Willie McCovey has the most, with 95. (Per The San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea).

Justin Upton has struck out 1,915 times. With one more strikeout he’ll move into a tie with Curtis Granderson for 10th on the all-time list.

Félix Hernández is 169-136 with a 117 ERA+.
Dave Stieb went 176-137 with a 122 ERA+.

Eddie Mathews had 354 doubles and 512 home runs.
Dave Parker had 339 home runs and 529 doubles.

Bob Oliver hit the first grand slam in Kansas City Royals history on today’s date in 1969. Two months earlier, he’d become the first to log six hits in a single game. The erstwhile slugger is the father of former big-league left-hander Darren Oliver.

Nolan Ryan recorded his 3,000th career strikeout on today’s date in 1980. The hitter he fanned, Cesar Geronimo, had been Bob Gibson’s 3,000th strikeout victim six years earlier.

Players born on today’s date include Jim Minshall, a right-hander who had cups of coffee with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1974 and 1975. Per his B-Ref bio, Minshall holds the career record (6 games) for most appearances without giving up an earned run.

Also born on today’s date was Pinky Swander, who played in 14 games for the St. Louis Browns in 1903, and in one game the following year. An outfielder born in Portsmouth, Ohio, Swander had 14 hits in 65 at bats.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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dl80
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dl80

Great article, and nice job fingering Rawitch as a potential choice for the HOF! I think he’ll be a great choice. Also, I would never have guessed Feliciano as 2nd all time for the Mets. With 429 games, Jeurys Familia has a decent chance at passing him, but only if he resigns next year.