Tony Barnette has been a pleasant surprise in Texas. Signed in December after spending several seasons in Japan, the 32-year-old right-hander is performing well out of a Rangers bullpen that is statistically the worst in the American League. He’s been especially sharp as of late. Over his last eight appearances, Barnette has allowed just four hits and one unearned run in 13 innings.
Drafted by the Diamondbacks out of Arizona State in 2006, Barnette changed continents four years later after a 14-win season in Triple-A. The reason was simple.
“They wanted me,” said Barnette. “The Diamondbacks didn’t protect me and I wasn’t taken in the Rule 5, so I was looking at going back to the minors. I was at the stage of my life where you think you’re on the cusp of the big leagues and all of a sudden the powers that be say, ‘No you’re not.’ It was basically, ‘You’re welcome to stay, but if you want a change of scenery, good luck on your travels.’ Japan made the offer, and I decided to pack up and take my chances.”
Money was obviously a consideration. Barnette was making “about $2,000 a month” in the minor leagues and the Yakult Swallows were ‘guaranteeing half a million dollars.” The big leagues were still his ultimate goal. As he explained, “I figured I could get some new eyes on me and then make my trip back here. It took longer than I anticipated, but I did it. Here I sit.”
Barnette spent six years with the Swallows, where he eventually emerged as a standout reliever. Last year, his 41 saves tied him with Seung Oh for the most in the Japanese Central League. The acclimation process was a challenge.
“Along with the cultural differences, it’s a different type of baseball,” said Barnette. “People say baseball is baseball, and they’re correct in that sense, but the style of ball they play isn’t the same. It’s hard to put into words. It’s just different. There were things I had to adapt to.”
The righty adopted a “throw any pitch at any time” approach in Japan, as well as a pause in his windup. He doesn’t employ the latter with every delivery, but he will mix it in to disrupt a hitter’s timing. He’s been keeping a lot of hitters off-balance since returning stateside. In 35 appearances out of the Rangers bullpen, he has a 2.43 ERA. Often in the right place at the right time, he’s been credited with six wins.
As was the case with Oh, who signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, Barnette didn’t need to go through the posting system in order to leave NPB. He did so anyway.
“I was a free agent, so I had the option to post or not,” explained Barnette. “I opted to do so, as it gave me a chance to start talking to teams here a little bit sooner. It was also a way to thank the Swallows for giving me the opportunities they did. It felt like the right thing to do.”
The Anchorage, Alaska native ended up not being signed through those means — “Time ran out” — and ultimately inked a two-year deal with Texas worth $3.25 million. Not only did Yakult lose out on a posting fee, they also surrendered a player who stood out for his long locks.
“I grew my hair out when I was in Japan,” said the shaggily-coiffed Barnette. “Culturally it’s not that odd — you see a lot of guys with long hair — but it’s not very common for players. It kind of became the character I played over there. It didn’t play into it too much, though. It’s just hair.”
Hyun Soo Kim is having an interesting first season in MLB. Signed by Baltimore out of South Korea, the 28-year-old outfielder struggled so mightily in spring training that the club wanted to send him to the minors. As was his contractual right, he refused.
Kim played sporadically in April, then began to hit. But not for power. After homering 28 times last year with Doosan, in the KBO, he’s gone yard just three times as an Oriole. That doesn’t mean he’s been unproductive. The left-handed hitter is slashing .331/.413/.457 in 172 plate appearances.
As Jeff Sullivan wrote a month ago, the left-handed hitter has prospered by hitting a lot of hard ground balls. Despite his impressive batting average and 136 wRC+, he’s not pleased with the plethora of well-struck worm killers.
“When I’m late, there are a lot of ground balls,” Kim told me in mid-June. “It would happen in Korea, too. I’m a little dissatisfied, because it means I’m not hitting on time. I want to hit line drives.”
Kim added that the lack of power isn’t due to a more-contact-oriented approach. He’s “swinging hard”; he’s simply not in tune with his timing. Quality of pitching is part of the reason.
“The velocity here is higher than it was in Korea,” explained Kim. “At the beginning, I tried to hit the same, but I’ve had to make some adjustments. I used to use a toe-tap, now I don’t use a toe-tap anymore. That was too hard for me. Now I’m lifting my leg to try to get better timing.”
Three weeks ago, the Twins designated Oswaldo Arcia for assignment. A week later, they traded him to Tampa Bay for a PTBNL or cash considerations. Yesterday, at Fenway Park, I asked Rays manager Kevin Cash about the 25-year-old outfielder’s power potential.
“We’re intrigued a lot by him,” said Cash. “If you go by what he’s capable of, and what he shows in batting practice, he has quite a bit. It’s probably more pitch recognition right now — that might be holding him up — but sometimes it takes guys a little bit longer. There’s a guy over here who did pretty well with a second opportunity. I’m not at all comparing, but we’d like to see Ozzie get some consistent at bats and see how it plays out.”
The “guy over here,” is of course David Ortiz. Fourteen years ago, the Twins cut loose the then 26-year-old slugger. Arcia is 25.
Cash was correct in insinuating that the comparison is unfair. Given the parallels, it is nonetheless inevitable. Arcia barely batted an eyelash when I broached the subject with him a few minutes later.
“David Ortiz is in a class of his own,” Arcia told me. “He’s one of the greatest home run hitters to play this game. But I do like to think that I take a similar approach; I want to look for my pitch and try to put a good swing on it. The only thing I can do is show up every day and work hard, prepare, and hope for good results.”
Good results have been at a premium for the left-handed-hitting Venezuelan. Arcia hit 20 home runs in 372 at bats for the Twins in 2014, but for the most part he’s been a disappointment. His career slash line is .241/.304/.428, and there’s been a lot of swing-and-miss. Trying to do too much has been one of the issues.
“Before I came here, I tried to pull the ball too much,” admitted Arcia. “I would maybe over-swing a little bit, swing too hard. When I got here, the hitting coach told me to try to use the whole field. He said to just try to put it in play, because with my strength the ball is going to go.”
Arcia understands why he was let go by the Twins, although he was somewhat surprised. He was also frustrated. He’d been with the organization for his entire professional career, and he felt it was only a matter of time before he put everything together. He expects that to happen with his new team.
“I don’t think I got the opportunity to show what I could really do,” said Arcia. “I know the class of player that I am. I don’t know that I got the time to show that. You’re going to struggle — there are ups and downs in this game — and you’re going to make adjustments. Everybody in this room is making adjustments every day.”
Arcia didn’t adjust well to a demotion last year. He was in Rochester from May onward, and he wasn’t in a good place. Instead of being relaxed — “I like to have fun when I play” — he put pressure on himself to return to the big leagues. As a result, he went backward instead of forward.
“When you go back to the minors, you might try to do things to accelerate your game that actually result in more mistakes,” said Arcia. “As players, we have limits and we have to know what they are. If you try to do too much, you’ll end up doing less. I think I’m beyond that now. I have a new opportunity in the big leagues, and I want to take advantage of it. I’m very happy to be wearing a Tampa Bay Rays jersey.”
This past week, Brian Bannister joined Boston’s major league staff as an assistant to pitching coach Carl Willis. The organization’s director of pitching analysis and development — he retains that title — Bannister had been spending the vast majority of his time scouting, and working with minor league pitchers.
The scouting work he did for this year’s June draft wasn’t of the stopwatch and radar gun variety. Nor was he focused on a small group of potential picks. In Bannister’s estimation, he “looked at probably 10,000 amateur pitchers, and TrackMan stuff from all over the world.”
In a recent Hardball Times article titled Hit to Your Strengths, Jonah Pemstein wrote about hitters who are successful pulling outside pitches and going the other way on inside pitches. I procured quotes for the piece (as did Eno Sarris). If you’re interested in hitting mechanics, it’s a fascinating read.
One thing you won’t see in Jonah’s articles is quotes from Nick Castellanos. The Tigers third baseman is among the best at shooting inside offerings to the opposite field, but his explanation for why that is was left on the cutting room floor.
“It’s just something I do,” Castellanos told me. “I don’t know the rhyme or reason for it. I don’t know the mechanical gist of it. I just know that sometimes balls go in there and I hit them the other way. I’ve done that ever since I was little.”
The 24-year-old is maturing as a hitter, but he remains rudimentary when addressing his craft. At least when the queries come from me. Twice I’ve tried to get him to talk about process, and twice he’s responded in a see-ball-hit-ball vein. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with letting your bat doing the talking. Castellanos is slashing .306/.346/.540, with 17 home runs.
The Brewers recently had a hit turned into an out due to a lineup card snafu. In the first inning, Ryan Braun singled with two out, only to have Nationals manager Dusty Baker come out to inform the umpire that he had batted out of turn. Per the rules, Jonathan Lucroy, who was on the lineup card in the three-hole, was called out despite never coming to the plate. Braun led off the following inning.
The home plate umpire was of course aware that Braun had batted out of turn. However, it was up to Baker to bring this to his attention. Had Braun not reached base safely, Baker would have simply have let the out stand.
Which brings us to lineup card procedure.
Each manager fills out three cards, which he brings to home plate before the start of the game. He keeps one, the opposing manager gets another, and the plate umpire gets the third. Protocol demands that the umpire always takes the home team’s lineup card first. There is no particular reason outside of the fact that it’s traditionally been done this way.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Brian Kenny’s new book, Ahead of the Curve, is excerpted at Sports on Earth.
According to Dan Kiepel of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Braves want every parking dollar possible at their new stadium. And you won’t be able to get there via public transportation.
At the Washington Post, Adam Kilgore wrote about the influx of talented players coming over from Korea.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Corey Seager (22 years, 69 days) is the youngest position player to be named to the All-Star team in Dodgers franchise history.
Oakland right-hander Andrew Triggs has been called up from the minor leagues seven times so far this season.
In 1913, Walter Johnson had 11 complete-game shutouts and seven losses. His nine home runs allowed that year were the most in the American League.
A reminder that SABR’s national convention will be held in Miami from July 27-31. The featured speakers include Barry Bonds, Andre Dawson. Ozzie Guillen, Michael Hill, Don Mattingly, Jack McKeon, Eduardo Perez and Tony Perez.
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.