Franklin Barreto has never played an inning for the Oakland A’s. That streak could end this year. Barreto, a product of Venezuela who turns 21 on Monday, is rated the best prospect in the Oakland organization this year. And in 2016. And in 2015.
Those who watch developing talent long ago bought into the fact that Barreto could become something special.
What’s needed is time and an open position. He’d never played about Class-A before 2016, when he arrived at Double-A Nashville and put together a .281/.340/.413 slash line that included 24 doubles and 10 homers. He made it to Triple-A Nashville for four games at the end of the season.
This time around, he’s likely to start the season at Nashville and wind up in Oakland.
“This is a big year, just like last year,” Barreto said Thursday. “Nothing really has changed except that I know I’m a little bit closer to the big leagues.”
When he arrives, there’s a chance, albeit a slight one, that A’s fans will finally be able to forget what got him to Oakland, the 2014 trade of Josh Donaldson to Toronto. Right now the lone asset the A’s have from that trade is No. 2 starting pitcher Kendall Graveman. If Barreto is able to establish himself, perhaps the sting of seeing Donaldson and the Blue Jays in the playoffs the last two years will lessen for A’s fans.
Still, the Donaldson issue is not Barreto’s issue. What is pertinent to Barreto’s case is that while he’s rated an above-average defender at shortstop, it’s his bat that is considered exceptional. The A’s put him in center field for a bit in 2015 and last year had him get about one-third of his games at second base.
Oakland has a shortstop, Marcus Semien, to whom the club is committed, and the A’s aren’t about to let Barreto languish in the minor leagues for the lack of a place to play. And he’s OK with moving from shortstop should the need arise.
“I was always a center fielder in Little League and as a youngster,” he said. “So center field comes natural to me, and I’ve always liked playing the outfield. But I am prepared to play shortstop, second base, whatever they need.”
And that’s just as well. Oakland manager Bob Melvin said Thursday it was unlikely the A’s would use Barreto, who says he modeled himself after Miguel Cabrera as a hitter and idolized Omar Vizquel as a defender, in the outfield during spring training.
“It’ll be mostly just short and second in camp.” Melvin said. “We have enough guys in the outfield. You never know where things will go down the road, but the guy plays shortstop really well, and you don’t want to take him off that position unless you have to.
“Based on the fact that Marcus has (shortstop) nailed down, the other position would be second base.”
Second currently belongs to Jed Lowrie, whose three-year contract is up at the end of the season. The A’s have alternatives in Joey Wendle, who got into 28 games at second base last year, and Adam Rosales, who has played both second and short as a utility man for years. That means Oakland is in no rush to bring Barreto up, but once it seems he’s got his offensive game together, the A’s won’t have a problem making a spot for him.
When they do, it’s likely to be near the top of the lineup. Scouts say he handles the bat well, he’s a gap hitter with some pop and he can run – a career-high 30 steals last year.
“Running gives me the chance to raise up my status and help the team win,” Barreto said. “I think it’s really important.”
By John Hickey