Since acquiring him in the 2014 Josh Donaldson deal with the Blue Jays, the A’s have hoped for big things from infielder Franklin Barreto.
This season finally might be Barreto’s time. Infielder Jorge Mateo is gone, dealt to the Padres before camp opened at the Coliseum this month, and Barreto jumped right into action, swinging the hottest bat from the get-go.
“I never stopped working out back home in Orlando,” Barreto said on a video call, with coach Al Pedrique translating. “I’m trying to be consistent, repeating my swing. The key is to be consistent in every at-bat.
“I feel good now about the situation, but I’m going to work hard every day. I understand it’s a short season and right from the beginning, I’m going to do the best I can to prove to the team I can play every day at second base and contribute to help the team win.”
Even with Mateo’s departure, Barreto, 24, is in a fight for the everyday job. Tony Kemp, acquired from the Cubs during the offseason, might have the upper hand when it comes to playing time because he’s a left-handed hitter, something the A’s sorely need.
But manager Bob Melvin has indicated the team could go with a platoon and has said right-handed-hitting Chad Pinder could get starts at second base. In a short season, though, Melvin might opt to go with the hot hand whenever possible — and few players go on tears like Barreto. The A’s have seen it in many springs, when Barreto is often the most productive player.
“A 60-game season? If he gets off to a hot start, he could be electric,” assistant hitting coach Eric Martins said, “because we all know what Franklin can do with consistent at-bats.”
Barreto has yet to translate his preseason successes to his scattered major-league call-ups, batting .189 with a .220 on-base percentage in 80 games over the past three seasons. A lot of that, Barreto said, has been his mind-set.
“I’m trying to figure out the best way to be positive and produce right from the beginning,” he said. “The last couple of years, I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to be in the lineup when the season starts, so the thing I worked on in the off-time is to relax, take one at-bat at a time, don’t give at-bats away. I don’t have to put pressure on myself. I just have to play the game the best I can.”
Over the past two years, Barreto has belted 37 homers in 175 Triple-A games, despite his compact size. He smacked the first two homers of the A’s workouts this month, too.
“This guy is put together, talk about stacked,” Martins said. “He’s probably 5-foot-8, 205. He looks like a little running back. He’s a thick, small guy with a lot of force behind his swing and tremendous bat speed. I call him Mighty Mouse.”
“He looks great up there right now,” first baseman Matt Olson said. “I’ve played with him for four or five years now, so I’ve seen Frankie at his best and he looks really good. We’ve got a lot of guys that we can throw in there at second, which might seem like a problem but it’s a good problem to have. … But Frankie’s just cool, laid-back, goes about his stuff. Two homers already. It’s what he does.”
Scouts aren’t sure what to make of Barreto. He’s got that power, he plays second competently, he’s hit for average at times in the minors (.295 in 98 games at Las Vegas last season), but the lack of regular at-bats in the bigs makes it tough to project him.
“I saw him when he first came to the A’s organization and he plays with fire and electricity. He was the chosen one — but a little immature,” one American League scout said. “I think he’s a very streaky guy, so it’s all about confidence — he hasn’t handled adversity well. Sometimes when he struggles, it’s a landslide. One of the things that might make him settle in is putting him at second base and leaving him there.”
If it’s a platoon, Barreto said, “I’m ready whenever Bob Melvin needs me, whatever the situation.”
Barreto might be one of the few players wearing a mask in the field once the season starts next week. He has been doing so throughout Oakland’s workouts this month.
“I want to see if it’s comfortable to play under those circumstances,” he said. “I want to do the right thing to keep everyone healthy and want to see if I can breathe for nine innings every day because I’m concerned about the health of everybody.”
That’s led to the occasional sign snafu — Vimael Machin, playing second in one simulated game when Barreto was at short, had to ask Barreto to remove his mask to relay information.
“It’s a learning process,” Barreto said, “but I have time to figure out if it works.”