In 2013, second year player Brandon Barnes played in 136 games for the Astros. Barnes spent 116 of those games patrolling centerfield — and he did it just about as well as anyone in the league. Even though he doesn’t get a lot of national media attention, Barnes is without question one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. But is his defense enough to keep him in the big leagues?
Despite playing in considerably fewer innings than most elite centerfielders last season, Barnes led the American league with four double-plays and ranked fourth in assists. Barnes was fifth overall in the A.L. in putouts and ranked second in range factor per nine innings as a centerfielder.
On the offensive side, Barnes showed some improvement over his rookie campaign. But, in order to stay on the big league roster in 2014, Brandon will need to continue to get better. The combination of a .635 OPS and a 28.5% strikeout rate isn’t going to cut it.
With George Springer waiting in the wings, Brandon’s days in Houston could be numbered. Barnes still has a minor league option remaining, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sent to Oklahoma City when Springer is called up to Houston in late April. Depending upon how the rest of the offseason plays out, that might be exactly what happens.
The Astros are currently looking to add a power hitting outfielder via free agency or a trade. If that happens, Barnes’ chances of staying in Houston will be diminished. It’s also possible that Barnes could even be included in such a trade.
Barnes is an interesting player. In addition to his outstanding defensive ability, Brandon has shown some potential as a hitter. In 2012 Barnes hit .321/.381/.514 in 106 games in the minors, earning his first call up to the big leagues at the age of 26. Never looked upon as a top prospect, Brandon used his tireless work ethic to eventually open some eyes. Outstanding winter ball performances in Australia in 2011 and in Venezuela in 2012 earned Brandon a closer look by the big league club.
If Barnes can continue to improve offensively he should have a place on the team. His ability to hit left-handers (.296/.354/.437 in 2013) also gives him an added advantage of sticking as a backup or platoon player. Entering his age 27 season, Barnes just might be ready to take the next step. I for one will be rooting for him.