Friday, December 10, 2010

2011 Top Prospect List: #20 Tucker Barnhart, c

Tucker Barnhart
Height 5-8, Weight 175, B/T: S/R, DOB: 1/7/1991
2010 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: N/A

After years of inconsequence behind the dish, the Reds are suddenly flush with good catching prospects. Tucker Barnhart is clearly the third best in the system, but that says as much about those ahead of him as it does about his abilities. And, while Barnhart may rate third in the pecking order in total value terms, he's hands down the best defensive catcher of the bunch.

Draft Position and Amateur Career

The Reds landed Barnhart with the 299th overall pick in the 10th round of the 2009 draft. He attended Brownsburg High School in Indiana where he earned Louisville Slugger All-America honors and was named the 2009 Mr. Baseball in Indiana.

As a high school sophomore, Barnhart his .417 with 9 doubles, 10 homers, and 39 RBI. As a junior, Barnhart earned a reputation by hitting .500 with 11 homeruns, 10 doubles, and 39 RBI. As a senior, his newly acquired reputation earned him much more respect from pitchers, who worked him carefully when they bothered pitching to him at all. He hit .369 with 8 doubles, 6 homers, and 25 RBI. Barnhart handled getting fewer pitches to hit rather well and demonstrated a maturity beyond his years:

“In my first seven games, I was walked 15 times,” Barnhart said. “But one of my goals this year was to maintain a mature approach at the plate, control what I am able to control, maximize the pitches that are strikes and drive those pitches.”

Brownsburg coach Patrick O’Neil says that Barnhart’s philosophical approach to hitting has been a big part of his standout catcher’s success.

“He takes every swing in practice with a purpose,” O’Neill said. “He helps teammates with comments, demonstrations and he assists during drills. Tucker just possesses and aura of leadership, caring and commitment. The community, the fans and the players just love to be around him.”

When the draft finally rolled around, Barnhart was rated as a 5th round talent and the 16th best catcher available by Baseball America. He ultimately slipped in the draft due to signability concerns stemming from his strong commitment to Georgia Tech, which the Reds ultimately overcame by offering 4th round bonus money, much to the chagrin of GT head coach Danny Hall who obviously thought very highly of Barnhart:

"Tucker Barnhart, to me, is one of the best position players in the country. His primary position is catcher, but he can also play third and second base. A good tribute to him would be when a guy named Dave Alexander, who used to be the baseball coach at Purdue, told me this summer that he thought Tucker was probably a better infielder than he was a catcher, and we think that he is one of the best catchers in the country. He is just a very, very good baseball player and we are excited to have him."

Barnhart is a cerebral player, as even in high school he was charting pitches and doing advanced scouting on the competition during his days off. He seems to have the maturity necessary to bypass college and step right into the professional ranks.

2010 Season

Barnhart spent the 2010 season strapping on the tools of ignorance for the Billings Mustangs of the rookie Pioneer League. On the season, he posted a solid slash line of .306/.412/.387/.800 with a rock solid 25/18 K/BB ratio in 131 plate appearances. Of his 34 hits, only 9, all doubles, went for extra bases. He also successfully swiped 4 bases in 5 attempts. He also handled both lefties and righties, hitting .278 against southpaws and .312 against northpaws. Overall, his season was strong enough to earn him Honorable Mention on the Pioneer League All Star Team.

Barnhart's type of performance speaks to an offensive game that is heavier on skills than tools, which may ultimately result in a high-floor/low-ceiling type offensive profile. A higher floor means lower risk of flaming out, but a lower ceiling means that he will need his defensive skills to help drive his value. His profile makes him something of a rarity, as most high school prospects are short on polish and long on upside. Barnhart is the opposite. However, if Barnhart can improve his tools, then he already has the skills necessary to turn them into production.

Skills and Tools

Barnhart is a legitimate switch-hitter who knows how to control the strike zone. From the right side, he has a quiet stance that is slightly wider than shoulder-width. He uses a high back elbow and a small bat waggle. He uses a small stride to transfer his weight forward to meet the pitch. He has a smooth, fluid swing, and gets good extension out through the pitch. He also uses his hands effectively, which enables him to make consistent contact and square up the ball. While his swing lacks power, it generates line drives at a good clip. When coupled with his patience at the plate, his ability to make consistently hard contact gives him good control over the strike zone.

Currently, Barnhart has the ability to hit for average and get on-base, but it's questionable how much power he'll ever be able to generate. Given his build, there simply isn't significant physical projection to his game, which is potentially problematic in light of his current lackluster level of power. He did hit for solid power in high school, but the problem with evaluating high school prospects is that the level of competition tends to fluctuate wildly. He'll never have plus power, but the Reds can hope for average power. At the very least, he'll need to develop enough power to keep opposing pitchers honest. If he can't, then his on-base skill will largely be nullified by pitchers who aren't afraid to pound the strike zone. While his shorter stature may limit his power production, it also gives him a smaller strike zone to protect.

As a catcher with questionable power, Barnhart will have to lean heavily on his defense to carry him up the ladder. Fortunately, that's a reality with which he is well acquainted:

"My biggest strength as a player is my catching ability. I’m not the biggest guy and I really have to rely on my defensive ability to carry me places,” Barnhart said. “I try to maintain a ‘get after it’ mentality and not let anyone ever tell me that I can’t do something.”

Frequently, taller catchers have a difficult time both in getting low enough to be an effective receiver and in moving laterally. Fortunately, as Barnhart stands a mere 5'8" tall, he will certainly not face any such problems. In fact, he grades out highly across the board on defense and is very quick behind the dish.

Barnhart has very good catch-and-throw skills. His soft hands and feel for the position make him a very strong receiver. His agility and footwork are strong, so his lateral movement is quite good and allows him to effectively block pitches in the dirt. Footwork is very important to most defensive positions and that especially rings true for catchers. Barnhart utilizes his strong, quick footwork to help him get into proper throwing position very quickly, which enables him to control the opposition's running game. He has a very strong, accurate arm and a very quick release. He has "pop times" (basically, the time between the pitch hitting the catcher's glove until the catcher's throw hits the infielder's glove at 2nd base) of 1.8 seconds, which is very, very quick and helps explain how he threw out 45% of base stealers in 2009 and 51% in 2010.

Overall, Barnhart is very polished and highly skilled on defense. Additionally, he is quickly settling into a leadership role in the professional ranks, has good makeup, and a strong work ethic. All of these intangibles should ensure that he gets the most out of his abilities and help him ascend up the ladder.


Overall, Barnhart is an intriguing prospect with a nice blend of athleticism and polish. He provides plus on-base skill and plus defense at a premier defensive position, which alone could be enough to get him to the majors. It certainly worked for Ryan Hanigan, who possesses a similar skill-set. Despite the occasional Mike Piazza and Todd Hundley, catcher is, and always has been, a defense-first position. It's entirely possible that Barnhart adds additional power as he matures and fills out, but that could also rob him of agility and quickness. While his offensive upside is somewhat limited, his ability to switch hit gives his offensive game a bump in value due to the added versatility.

It'll be interesting to see how he develops, as there aren't many Major League catchers who stand only 5'8", but catchers with his defensive skills frequently find themselves in the majors in one capacity or another. It will be interesting to track his durability, as catcher is a physically taxing position and the grind may take more of a toll on a smaller player.

Overall, if Barnhart can continue to improve his offensive skills as he climbs the ladder, then he could end up as a legitimate catching option at the big league level. He's got a long way to go and he'll probably start off 2011 at low-A Dayton, but for now he checks in at #20 on the list.


  1. i really like him, i see him as a switch hitting hanigan. should be a good major leaguer one day

  2. Smitty,

    Yeah, I'm intrigued. He seems to be a plus make-up guy with good leadership skills. He may not have enough upside to make the majors, but catcher is the most direct route to do so. And, you really don't have to hit much to get there.

    A quick summary of Barnhart's likely value probably breaks down as follows:

    Value Drivers
    1. Plus Defense at a premier defensive position.
    2. Strong on-base skill and control of strike zone.
    3. Switch-hitting ability.
    4. Feel for the game.

    Drags on Value
    1. Lack of power
    2. Size limits physical projection

    I'm curious if you think his height will be a problem for him. Will he wear down more quickly because he's a smaller guy?

    Thanks for the comment!


  3. i dont think his size will make a difference, he probably wont be a starter in the bigs. He lacks power but while that may keep him from being a good starter, i think his high floor and defense will get him in the pros.

    plus he can switch hit, ive always liked people who can do that

  4. Smitty,

    Yeah, I tend to agree. Dioner Navarro and Pudge Rodriguez both stand only 5-9. So, it's not out of the realm of possibilities that Barnhart can make it work. And, given his lack of power, his on-base skill becomes even more important and his height works to his advantage in that respect by giving him a smaller strike zone.

    For some reason, catcher is the only position where I like having a lefty or a switch hitter. Not sure why, but maybe it's because catchers usually don't provide much offense, so having a bit more versatility or the advantage against righthanded pitchers at the dish is a good thing.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment!


  5. greinke is available... they want close to ready middle infield prospects....

    Frazier, valaika 2b....
    cozart, negron ss....

    just saying

  6. High impact MI prospects. And while I like our guys I doubt they are considered impact players. Frazier isn't a MI at this point, Valaika really only a 2B and it's debatable whether he is a starter or not, though I think he can be. Cozart and Negron are certainly viable SS's and both have some solid talent but I'd actually hate to see either dealt especially Cozart. Not saying it would be a deal breaker for Greinke but we don't have the luxury of dealing them away as the non headliners. KC allegedly wants up the middle impact players that are also close to the majors in addition to an impact arm.

    Who is 2 years or less away and may fit the bill? Debatably these guys.

    Catcher: Mesoraco, Grandal
    Shortstops: Cozart, Negron, Janish
    2B: Valaika
    CF: Stubbs, Heisey, Sappelt, Perez

    Arms: Bailey, Cueto, Volquez, Leake, Wood, Boxberger, Chapman

    Grandal would have to be a PTBNL and I'm not sure Moore would go for that at this juncture but perhaps midseason ould be a better time for any Greinke deal. I suspect Volquez isn't quite what they want considering his age, injury, shaky command and closeness to FA which is only one year different than Greinke. Chapman is probably untouchable from the Reds perspective. So really it boils down to how much money the Royals would be willing to boot in and if we can come to terms on anything that is left.

    Moore: Stubbs, Mesoraco, Cozart & Leake

    Me: No, No, No & No
    Sappelt, Grandal, Negron & Bailey or Boxberger (and even then I'd rather keep Negron but would do it)

    Walt: Heisey, Mesoraco or Grandal, Cozart & Bailey or Boxberger if they send a big chunk of cash.

    In short I don't see it working out. I doubt Walt deals Stubbs for 2 years of Greinke and I doubt what Walt is willing to part with is enough for Moore. Though I will say I'm not so sure Moore is that good an evaluator anyhow. He may take my offer and if he would he'd be nuts.

  7. Just to add I think my offer would be in line with todays actual market, depending on your perception of those players. I think Grandal can be an impact catcher as well as Bailey or Boxberger on the mound. Sappelt and Cozart can both be above average regulars as well though Sappelt likely isn't. But I sure would spin their ceilings to Moore as such. If in the end the Royals got Grandal & Cozart as both above average regulars (along with some innings from the arms and some cheap years from a bench player in Sappelt) for 2 years of Greinke they would be coming out more ahead than most will. Just look at what the Padres got for Gonzalez, what are they really likely to get out of those guys? Anymore than what we'd be offering here, I personally doubt it.

  8. Lark, you really think Barnhart is a better defender than Mes. Do you think Mes will be that good or better defensively? I happen to think Mes is pretty good defensively himself, though I admit he does need some polish yet, I believe he will be an above average defender at the big league level.

  9. Smitty,

    I agree that we line up pretty well with the Royals. In fact, I think we may line up better than all the other teams. Of course, the Royals are going to need to be a bit flexible in their demands. We can send them a lot of value, but maybe not impact middle infield talent that is two years away.

    Personally, I wouldn't want to give up Billy Hamilton, if at all possible, but I'd include Yorman if need be.

    We can certainly send enough value their way, but they will have to be a bit more realistic in their demands.

    I suppose it's all moot, as we don't have the money to take on his contract without freeing up some space. Still, seems a better way to spend the money than on Arroyo.


  10. Will,

    I agree that we don't have the type of impact middle infield talent to get a deal done...if that's what the Royals are indeed demanding. The only middle infielder we have that is potentially an impact talent is Hamilton and he's not 2 years away.

    Unfortunately, I don't think your offer gets it done. Personally, I don't see a guaranteed elite talent in that package. It strikes me as more quantity than quality. Of course, as good as Moore has been in building the farm system, he's been almost equally bad in managing the MLB roster. So, a poor trade is not out of the question. Not sure what type of offer I'd make, but I'd probably build it around Yorman.

    If we do need to include a pitcher, then it becomes an interesting question as to which one we would include. I wouldn't be looking to move Wood and due to cost/service time they probably wouldn't have interest in Edinson/Cueto/Arroyo. The question is whether Aroldis or Leake should be available. Will Aroldis ever reach his ceiling as a starting pitcher? Will Leake be better than a #3? If the answer to either is no, then maybe they should be expendable.

    Anyway, interesting thoughts.


  11. Will,

    I do think Barnhart is better. Obviously, he's at a much lower level, but he has good, quick footwork, moves well behind the dish, and throws very well.

    I think Mesoraco is solid, but I have read some concerns about his work behind the dish. Ultimately, I could see him being average or above, but I'll be very curious to see how Mesoraco follows up his breakout season both at, and behind, the dish.

    Thanks for the comment!


  12. this is one of the first articles i have read on this site....and i will say that i am quite impressed.

    i greatly appreciate your writing ability, and knowledege for the game. keep it coming!

  13. Anon,

    Thanks for the kind words! Always nice to hear. I've got 24 more prospect write-ups coming, so stay tuned.


  14. This guy will make a great MLB catcher. Simply one of the best prospects in the country. He will put up 15 to 20 hrs in time and hit for average too. CCaprarella

  15. This guy will make it for sure. His size will work for him, not against. Caprarella

  16. Chascap,

    Well, I admire your optimism! I like Barnhart, but given his size I'm not sure it's likely that he'll ever hit 20 or even 15 homeruns. Still, he isn't without value, especially with his good defensive skills and ability to control the strikezone. But, you're right, his size may help him defensively, as big catchers have their own issues.

    Best case career path for Barnhart seems to be that of Ryan Hanigan. Nothing wrong with that.

    Thanks for the comment!


  17. Late to the game here but a little more perspective on Tuck. He is a great kid from a great family and works his tail off. His HS power numbers come from him playing in a "band box" of a home field in Brownsburg... Which is why the pitching prospects' numbers put up at that school are even more impressive.