No one has taken on a bigger challenge this off-season in Major League Baseball than Astros hitting coach, Mike Barnett. Heinherited an offense that was dead last in home runs and second to last in runs scored in the major leagues last year. The problem is the team has stayed primarily intact from 2010. Not to mention he is replacing Astros legend Jeff Bagwell, who was able to get the Astros to show some signs of life and the offense was better after he took over as batting coach.
However, this is not Barnett’s first rodeo as he has spent time as the hitting coach for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals and most recently he has been the Astros minor league hitting coordinator. So the question is, can Mike Barnett turn this offense around from a lackluster showing in 2010 and generate some firepower in 2011?
The easy answer after only two spring training games is no. The Astros have scored three runs in two games and got shut out today against Atlanta. They did have 14 hits in the first game but all were singles and only had one extra base hit today, which was a triple by Hunter Pence. They hit into five double plays in their first game and have left a total of 14 runners on base between the two games.
However, there is some positives that Mike Barnett should hang his hat on to this point. Carlos Lee looks to be off to a strong start as he has three hits and one RBI already in two games. Hunter Pence is batting .500 through his first two games with one RBI and the only extra base hit for the Astros to this point. If the Astros and Mike Barnett want to have any hope of having a decent offense, these two will need to be key components.
The Astros went out and brought in players Bill Hall and Clint Barmes this off-season to help this offense but they are not exactly game changers. It is like telling someone to fix a drought and giving them a bottle of water. However, the Astros were a very young team and every starter entering this season has played at least half a season at the major league level. This alone should provide some results as it is hard to teach experience.
Even though this is a very daunting challenge, I believe Mike Barnett is the man to turn this offense around. Barnett has spent the past two seasons as the minor league hitting coordinator for the Astros and has already spent time working with players like Brett Wallace and Jason Castro. This type of familiarity will definitely be a plus for these players as well as Barnett.
This team has the potential to be a very good offense with players like speedster Michael Bourn leading off. Then you have players like Hunter Pence, who has hit 25 home runs each of the past three seasons, looking to knock him home. The key for this team will be how quickly players like Brett Wallace and Jason Castro can mature and start providing some production. I think Mike Barnett is up to the challenge, I just hope to see some tangible improvement so then I can stop talking about moral victories.