Minor League Review: Nick Barnese, A Forgotten Man

By Robbie Knopf

The Rays are an organization that is filled with pride about its pitching depth. While others have succeeded, Nick Barnese has struggled. And he has gotten lost in the shuffle.

Barnese with the Rays’ third round pick in the 2007 draft that yielded David Price with the number one overall pick and Matt Moore in the eighth round. He soon showed that he had the ability to be a pitcher if not quite of the caliber of the two hard-throwing lefties, still an impressive pitcher. In his first full pro season in 2008, Barnese dominated at Short Season-A Hudson Valley, going 5-3 with a 2.45 ERA, an 11.5 K/9, a 3.3 BB/9, and a 0.1 HR/9 in 13 starts and 66 IP. His FIP was a ridiculous 1.94, although his groundout to flyout ratio was 1.38. Barnese showed in 2008 at Low-A Bowling Green that he couldn’t strike out batters like his teammate Moore could, but he put together another excellent season, going 6-5 with a 2.53 ERA, a 7.5 K/9, a 3.0 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 in 15 starts and 74.2 IP. His FIP rose to a still good 3.43 while his GB/FB went up to 1.66. Barnese also missed time early in the season with a shoulder injury so that was a major red flag. But his performance was still top-notch and he was Baseball America’s number 10 Rays prospect.

In 2010, Barnese went up to High-A Charlotte and his numbers were again noteworthy. He went 8-4 with a 3.02 ERA, a 7.4 K/9, a 1.9 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 in 20 starts, a relief appearance, and 122.1 IP. His FIP was a nice 3.17- it has to be noted that a ridiculous 18 hit batsmen are included in that compared to just 26 walks. His GO/AO was 1.30. He missed the end of the season with more shoulder problems, so that definitely put the Rays on edge.

In 2011, Barnese’s performance finally slipped. He went 6-8 with a 3.76 ERA at Double-A Montgomery, not that bad, but he posted a 7.0 K/9, a bad 4.4 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 24 starts and 117.1 IP. His FIP rose to 4.27 while his GO/AO was 1.23. He walked 57 batters and hit 11 more as his control deteriorated quite a bit. And he missed more time with shoulder problems. Those shoulder issues still plague him as he’s currently on Montgomery’s DL and has not appeared in a single game thus far.

Barnese, when healthy, throws in the low-90’s with his fastball with late movement that forces tons of weak contact, even if it’s not all on the ground (Jeremy Hellickson-esque). His secondary pitches are a slurvy breaking ball that at its best is a sharp spike curveball with nice depth in the low-80’s. His changeup has nice sink at its best but lacks consistency. Barnese has a deceptive delivery but it sometimes throws off his control.

Nick Barnese still has solid upside. He could be a number three starter-type in the big leagues if he can stay healthy and get his control back on track and even better if he can solidify his secondary pitches more. The Rays can afford to wait on Barnese. That can let him slip under the radar. He’s just 23 years old and they’ll give him time to try to find himself. But he has to execute and make the necessary improvements. Nick Barnese is completely out of the public eye right now. Will he ever get back? Only time will tell.