The jump to Double-A is often the toughest test of a prospect as they move up the system.
Pitchers are both more consistent and unpredictable the more you move up the chain. Fastballs can be spotted at the knees on the outside corner a lot more routinely. Behind in the count, pitchers can and often rely on their off-speed stuff to make batters chase balls out of the zone. There’s more information collected and shared on everyone who suits up.
It all adds up to the game often becoming tougher than it ever has in the past for many players at this level.
“You get here, and it’s a separator between guys who can play and guys who can’t,” Harrisburg Senators’ manager Matt LeCroy said.
Through the first month of the season, it appeared that catcher Tres Barrera wasn’t going to have any of those issues with his promotion to Harrisburg. Barrera slashed .350/.400/.517 in 16 games with eight RBIs and eight runs scored while the Senators raced out to a franchise-best 21-4 record in April.
But the next month brought a brutal dose of reality to the Nationals’ 2016 sixth round selection. Barrera’s average dipped to .266 entering June after going 17-for-83 in May.
“It’s a chess game,” Barrera said. “They have a book out on me now. There’s video. It’s a game of adjustments, and the guys that can make the adjustments quicker are the ones that play in the big leagues for a long time. That is part of my development, and I understand that. I want to keep showing that I can make adjustments as the season goes on.”
And that’s precisely what Barrera has done to right the ship. Since coming off the injured list on June 11, the 24-year-old is batting .333 including going 6-for-11 with three doubles and a homer this past weekend against Bowie.
But offensive adjustments aside, Barrera has impressed his manager the most with his leadership and how he handles the pitching staff. Both qualities LeCroy, a catcher for 124 games in his Major League career, looks for out of the position.
“That’s the number one thing in my book,” Barrera said. “Everything else comes second to that. If you can’t manage a pitching staff, you can’t win ballgames. That’s the ultimate goal as a baseball player, as a catcher, to go out there and win that game.
“As I’ve climbed higher and gotten a chance to be in big league camp to see veterans like Zuk (Kurt Suzuki) and Gomes and see how they handle their business. You see how important that really is and the chemistry with the team.”
For Barrera, it’s been a crash course in learning the position. The Eagle Pass, Texas native was an infielder all his life starring as the team shortstop (and quarterback) at Sharyland High School. It wasn’t until his freshman season at the University of Texas that he strapped on the tools of ignorance full-time. But he still approached the position with the mindset of an athlete surviving and even thriving on natural talent in the role.
“When I got to pro ball, catching coordinator Michael Barrett asked me when I block balls am I fall forward, kick back, or collapse guy. I said, ‘I don’t know. I just block it.'” Barrera said. “I really didn’t know the ins and outs of catching yet. He broke me down from my throwing to my blocking to my receiving. Just everything. I finally realized how important my job was back there, and I wanted to attack the craft.”
That willingness to learn is something that has paid off under the catching tutelage of Barrett, LeCroy, Sandy Martinez, and Bob Boone among others as Barrera moves up the ranks just a phone call and a two-and-a-half hour drive away from his dreams.
“I’m an open book when it comes to learning,” Barrera said. “I feel like there’s always room to get better in every aspect of this game. You can never think you know too much because this game will humble you real quick. I’m still learning. Anything that can help me get the best out of my pitchers, I’m open ears, and I write it down in a notebook I keep.
“I feel like I put the work in, and now it is showing. I’m going to continue to work on my craft because at the end of the day my ultimate goal is to play in the big leagues for a long time.”