Aaron Barrett was a starting pitcher at the University of Mississippi, a role he continued after he was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the ninth round in 2010. But the results were less than impressive.
The 6-foot-4 right-hander went 0-5 with a 9.43 ERA as a part-time starter for the Vermont Lake Monsters in the New York-Penn League. The next season, the Nationals switched their NYPL affiliate to Auburn, and moved Barrett to the back of the bullpen.
"That's when things clicked for me," said Barrett.
In his first stint as a closer, Barrett went 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA and nine saves in 19 appearances for the Doubledays. Last season he compiled a 3-2 record, 2.60 ERA and 16 saves for Class A Hagerstown before finishing the year with Class A Advanced Potomac, where we had a save and a 1.06 ERA in 11 games.
"I'm just trying to build off the success I had last year," said Barrett, who has done that and more with Harrisburg.
In 37 games, he is 1-1 with a 1.75 ERA and 19 saves while earning an invitation to the Eastern League All-Star Game. He's allowed 24 hits and 12 walks with 48 strikeouts in 36 innings. In his last 10 outings, the 25-year-old has not allowed a run and has earned nine saves.
"For me at the Double-A level, the key is to get ahead of the hitters," Barrett said, "especially a first-pitch strike. That's been my emphasis this year."
"He's a bulldog," said Paul Menhart, the Harrisburg pitching coach. "His approach is, 'Here I am. I'm going to get you out.' He reaches 95 on his fastball and has a plus breaking pitch."
This year Barrett has watched three of his pitching teammates jump from Harrisburg to the Nationals: Nathan Karns, Ian Krol and Taylor Jordan. Karns made three starts for Washington before being sent back to the Senators. Krol did not allow a run in his first nine big league appearances, while Jordan made his fourth start for Washington on Sunday with Dan Haren and Ross Detwiler spending time on the DL.
"This year has really shown how deep the Nationals organization is," Barrett said. "It just shows they trust the talent level" in the Minor Leagues.
So does Barrett envision his own promotion one day, even if that means a stop at Syracuse first?
"We try not to think about that too much," he said. "We try to go out and do our job and get people out. But it is neat to see your teammates get called up from Double-A and not have to go to Triple-A first."
Making the jump: Reliever Matty Ott was promoted to Portland and tossed four scoreless innings Saturday in his first Double-A appearance after opening the year with Class A Advanced Salem, where he went 3-4 with a 3.59 ERA and two saves in 34 outings. He was drafted in the 13th round by the Red Sox in 2011 out of LSU, where he helped the Tigers win the 2009 national title with 16 saves as a freshman.
Strong first half: The Binghamton Mets may be hard to catch in the Eastern Division this year with a record of 58-34 through Sunday, 11 1/2 games ahead of Trenton. The Mets were third in team hitting at .263 and ranked among the top three in home runs (84) and steals thanks in large part to Cesar Puello and Allan Dykstra. The Mets were second in team ERA at 3.74 through Sunday, and Jeff Walters picked up his 24th save Saturday against Portland. "They are a complete team," Portland manager Kevin Boles told The Portland Press Herald.
Trading places: Infielder Aaron Baker delivered two home runs and six RBIs for Bowie on Thursday against Richmond, then was sent to Class A Advanced Frederick on Monday as the Orioles promoted infielder Christian Walker to Bowie. Baker hit .251 with five homers and 21 RBIs in 215 at-bats for Bowie, while Walker, who began the year at Class A Delmarva, batted .288 with eight homers and 35 RBIs in 215 at-bats for Frederick.