In April, When Matt Barnes walked off the mound after pitching five scoreless innings in his first professional start, the Red Sox had to be pleased with their top pick in the 2011 Draft. The 22-year-old right-hander followed up his impressive debut with another scoreless start. And another. And another.
It wasn't until the sixth inning of his fifth start that Barnes finally gave up a run for Class A Greenville. Less than a month into his pro career, he was promoted to Class A Advanced Salem.
Barnes' stat line with the Drive was staggering. The University of Connecticut product -- and 2011 Big East Pitcher of the Year -- left the South Atlantic League with a 0.34 ERA, allowing one run on 12 hits while striking out 42 batters and walking only four over 26 2/3 innings. The Red Sox's top pitching prospect and Organization All-Star went on to make 20 Carolina League starts, finishing with a 7-5 overall record and 2.86 ERA.
Being drafted by the Red Sox may seem like a dream come true for a New England native, but Barnes -- whose hometown of Bethel, Conn., is less than 10 miles from the New York border -- grew up cheering for the Yankees.
He recently talked with MiLB.com to discuss allegiances, his fast start and plans for the future.
MiLB.com: You were born and raised in New England but grew up a Yankee fan. How did it feel to get drafted by the Red Sox?
Matt Barnes: You know, I'm very fortunate. Even though I grew up a Yankees fan, you always appreciate and respect the Red Sox as a phenomenal organization. Plus, as a Yankees fan you probably pay just as much attention to the Red Sox as you do the Yankees. I would have been happy to have the opportunity to play for anybody. And even though I grew up a Yankees fan, being with the Red Sox organization now I'm giving 100 percent of my effort to them. I'm just trying to get up to the big leagues and help them win.
MiLB.com: If you could describe your first pro season in one word, what would it be?
Barnes: In one word, huh? I'd say "learning." It was definitely a learning experience.
MiLB.com: When you began your pro career, you skipped Rookie and short-season ball, starting at Class A, and you dominated right away. Did you expect to have that kind of success right off the bat?
Barnes: I don't know if anyone comes in and expects to do that. Obviously, I put in a lot of hard work in the offseason and Spring Training to put myself in the best position to succeed when you make a team. I'm happy I had the opportunity to play with those 24 other guys, but to say that I expected to throw that well probably wouldn't be realistic. But I'm very happy with it. I was just trying to stay consistent and give the team my best every time out.
MiLB.com: You were quickly promoted to the Carolina League, where you seemed to level out a bit. Was there a noticeable difference in competition between Class A and Class A Advanced?
Barnes: There were a couple of things I realized. One is that guys just don't chase [pitches] as much. They're essentially just more disciplined hitters. You have to be able to get outs with your fastball in the zone, you have to be able to mix pitches and throw them all for strikes. I think that discipline is the biggest difference. Plus, the guys are older and more experienced, so if you make mistakes, they're going to hit them. You need to have more command of your pitches and you really need to be able to pitch rather than just throw.
MiLB.com: Six games into your career and you already were at the third-highest level in the Minors. Did three years of college ball help your development, compared to players who are drafted out of high school?
Barnes: I think so. I've always been a firm believer in going to college. Then, after college, if you have an opportunity to play pro ball, you should take it. When you go to college you build camaraderie. You have guys kind of pushing you into shape, you learn how to be a good teammate and you just mature a lot. You learn a lot about yourself in college, and you have the older guys that have been there that really help you, having been there for three years with such a vested interest in the team. But probably the biggest thing is that it gives you a sense of being on your own before you have to do it in pro ball for a living. When you go to college, you end up getting an apartment, you travel all the time, but you're doing it with the same guys for three years and they really become your brothers. Whereas if you come out of high school, that's really the first time you're off on your own, and it can be kind of difficult.
MiLB.com: Now that you've been in the Minors for a year, what has been the biggest difference you've noticed between the pro game and the college game?
Barnes: Besides the wood bats, which are awesome (laughs), it's the five-day rotation. I don't think throwing every fifth day is the hard part, it's that bullpen [session] on the second day and just the fact that you have to throw every day. The college season, through the end of summer ball, is essentially the same length [as the pro season], maybe a couple of weeks shorter, but when you're in college you'll know that you're throwing every Friday. So you can take a Saturday or Sunday off sometimes and you'll still be fine come the next Friday, while in pro ball you have to throw every day. So I guess your arm gets more tired come the end of the season; that's what I noticed in my first year. It's a lot to put on your arm and it takes some getting used to.
MiLB.com: The season's been over for almost two months. What have you been up to in your free time?
Barnes: I'm just lifting, following the [offseason] program, giving my arm a rest. I've been visiting with my family and my girlfriend and just kind of enjoying the time for right now. Some days I'll get up and be like, "Well, I have nothing to do today." You find yourself looking for something to fill that void, but at the same time it's nice to have a break and get away from it for a little bit.
MiLB.com: Where do you see yourself at this time next year? What do you hope to accomplish in your second season?
Barnes: One year from now, I want to continue the path that I'm on. My biggest goal for every season is to be as consistent as possible. If I'm consistent and I control the things that I can control, it makes no sense to worry about anything but that. I can't control where I play, so I just want to go out every time and do my best to get the "W," and the rest will work itself out.