Miami Marlins prospect Austin Barnes does not get the credit he deserves. That could all change in the 2013 season, as he is ready for a breakout year.
Austin Barnes has done nothing but hit since being drafted out of Arizona State in the ninth round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft. No matter what position the Marlins tried him at, Barnes has excelled. Even if he is not a catcher long-term, Barnes's bat looks like enough for him to be successful at second base. With the Marlins middle infield turmoil, Barnes could make an appearance in Miami as early as 2014.
Barnes was born in 1989 and he grew up in Riverside, California. After a successful high school career in which Barnes was named to the All-California Interscholastic Foundation first-team, Barnes moved on to the University of Arizona State. Arizona State is famous for their tremendously talented middle infielders (Deven Marrero, Jason Kipnis, and Joey DeMichele are the most recent products), so Barnes only played in twenty games as a freshman. However, he did hit .412 and make it appear clear that Barnes would have a key role on the 2010 Arizona State baseball team.
In 2010 at Arizona State, Barnes was switched to catcher. Austin Barnes does not look like a catcher with his 5'10''. 180 lbs frame, but he was a fantastic defensive catcher. Barnes has never been the best catcher at blocking pitches, but he can call a pretty good ballgame for someone that has not played catcher his entire life. Barnes struggled at the plate in 2010, hitting only .272. In his junior season in 2011, Barnes was named to the first-team All-Pac 10 team after he hit .320 with improved defense behind the plate.
After being drafted by Miami in the ninth round of the 2011 draft, Barnes was assigned to Low-A Jamestown in the New York- Penn League. He played 57 games for Jamestown that year, starting 31 at catcher and 12 at second base. Barnes hit .288 with a .369 OBP and more walks than strikeouts (25/22). Barnes's OBP skills help ensure that he does not have an "empty average." Even if Barnes never hits for power (a good possibility), his ability to get on-base makes him a much better hitter than someone with an empty batting average.
Austin Barnes spent the entire 2012 season playing for Greensboro, in the South Atlantic League. Out of the 123 games Barnes played in, he started 103 at second base and just sixteen at catcher. The Marlins boldly decided that Barnes's future in Miami was no longer at catcher, but at second base. Barnes continued to show off at the plate, where he hit .318/.401/.481 with a 59/61 BB/K ratio. Barnes was a midseason South Atlantic League All-Star and perhaps the most consistent player on the SAL Northern Division first-Half champion Greensboro Grasshoppers team.
In 2013, one would have to predict that Barnes would start the year in High-A Jupiter. Noah Perio, the second baseman in Jupiter last year, is athletic but overrated. If Perio is moved up to Double-A, the controversy between Barnes and Perio will be avoided. However, at some time, the best second baseman is going to be playing while the other sitting on the bench. Austin Barnes is a better prospect than Perio because he has great on-base ability and a plus hit tool to go along with stellar defense and good baseball instincts.