With top catching prospects such as Devin Mesoraco and Yasmani Grandal, it’s easy to overlook the development of a young player like Tucker Barnhart. But Barnhart quietly had himself a solid season last year for the Billings Mustangs, Rookie Affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. Known for his solid defensive play (he threw out 51% of base runners), Barnhart showed the Reds a preview of his offensive arsenal by hitting at a clip of .306. I was able to catch up with Barnhart and I interviewed him for my first post on blogredmachine.com.
Q: You attended Brownsburg High School where in 2009 you led your team to a 22-5 record and was named the 2009 Indiana Mr. Baseball. Is this when it became clear that you had the skill set to be a high draft pick in the MLB draft?
Barnhart: As a player you try to not get wrapped up in things that you cannot control, like the Draft. The Draft is a crazy thing and all you can do is control what you can control, and that is the way you carry yourself on and off the field and how you play. With that being said, you start to get a feel for how much interest there is in you as a player once scouts and front office people start coming in contact with you and your family. It was a hectic senior season, but I wouldn’t have changed anything for the world.
Q: Even though you had committed to playing collegiate baseball at Georgia Tech, the Cincinnati Reds drafted you in the 10th round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft. What was the deciding factor in your decision to forgo playing at Georgia Tech and instead signing with the Cincinnati Reds?
Barnhart: From the day I understood what the Major Leagues were, I always wanted to put myself in a situation to be there. I decided to sign with Georgia Tech, because I felt that it would put me in a situation that if I ended up in college would give me the best chance to progress as a player and eventually play pro baseball. When the time came to decide whether or not to sign, I took into consideration the fact that I could always go back to school, and the chance to play pro baseball may not, so I decided to make the jump from high school to pro baseball in hopes to one day reach that goal of playing in the Major Leagues.
Q; Your first taste of professional baseball came in 2009 with the Reds team in the Gulf Coast League. How hard was it for you to go from facing high school to professional pitching? And how difficult was it for you to handle the pitching staff?
Barnhart: In the little taste that I had in the Gulf Coast League, it wasn’t necessarily the pitching that was the toughest adjustment. Although that it was tough getting used to the 90 plus velocity, playing everyday was the biggest adjustment for me. It was tough at times to bounce back physically, but I feel now that I have learned to do that, and that is just from being around the pro game for 2 1/2 years now. I am learning daily on how to control a pitching staff. Being around guys like Tom Browning and Bob Forsch really helps me grow in the area of calling a game, and ultimately controlling a pitching staff.
Q: After completing a season with the Billings Mustangs in the Rookie Pioneer League, you hit at an average of .306 and caught 51% of runners stealing on you. With this said, which aspect of your game is currently your strongest?
Barnhart: I feel like I bring to the table an extremely reliable player that will be consistent on a daily basis. If I had to pinpoint one part of my game that is currently the strongest, I would have to say my defense. I take huge part in being the best defensive catcher that I can be. I feel that the game of baseball is going back to the way it used to be played and is no longer about the “long-ball” and more about pitching and defense.
Q: What did you do to improve your abilities during this past off-season? And how prepared are you for this upcoming season?
Barnhart: I really worked hard to be in great shape coming into spring training. I reported early this year to a mini-camp that was all about strength and conditioning. My mind and body feel great and I cannot wait for the season to begin.
Q: Are you happy so far with your progress as a professional baseball player?
Barnhart: I am extremely happy with what I have done as a pro so far, but by no means am I satisfied with where I am. Everyday I go out and I grow as a player whether it be mentally or physically.
Q: What are your expectations and goals that you have set for yourself this upcoming season?
Barnhart: This season I want to hit above .300 again and be around the top of the team in on base percentage. I want to show some of the power that I have that people in pro ball have not seen yet. All in all I just want to open eyes of people that I play around, and show that I am a leader, and that I will come to work everyday and give you everything I have no matter if its April 10 or August 10.
Q: Where do you expect to begin the 2011 campaign, and which level in the Reds organization do you wish to be by the end of the season?
Barnhart: I hope to start the year in Low A in Dayton, Ohio as apart of the Dayton Dragons. I feel like if I play the way that I am capable of playing that ending in High A in Bakersfield, California is not out of the question.
Q: Which player or coach in the Reds organization has been the biggest influence and help on you so far in your career?
Barnhart: I have to say I owe a lot of my successes so far to Sean Marohn and the strength and conditioning staff. They have helped me grow as a player physically and have driven me to become bigger and stronger so I am ready to go for the season.
Q: Which MLB player would you compare your style of play with?
Barnhart: Carlos Ruiz, he is a very, very good defensive catcher that is a pest for pitchers to get out.
After major improvement from his first season of professional baseball, Barnhart showed that he has a very talented future even though he still is a very raw prospect. If his hitting continues at the future minor league levels, Barnhart will become solid player for the Reds. This is why I believe that Tucker Barnhart will be seen in a Reds uniform behind that plate at Great American Ballpark in the coming seasons.