Aaron Barrett was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006, the Minnesota Twins in 2008, the Texas Rangers in 2009 and finally the Washington Nationals in 2010. Barrett signed with the Nats, who took him in the 9th Round out of the University of Mississippi. He started his pro career with the NY/Penn League's Vermont Lake Monsters that summer. In 2011, the right-hander moved to the bullpen full-time and pitched for the Auburn Doubledays when the Nationals moved their NYPL affiliate.
Barrett, split his third season in the organization between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac. He saved 16 games, posting a 2.60 ERA, 1.90 FIP, 11 walks (2.86 BB/9) and 52 Ks (13.50 K/9) in 34 2/3 IP for the Suns and a 1.06 ERA, 1.61 FIP, three walks (1.59 BB/9) and 21 Ks (11.12 K/9) in 17 IP for the P-Nats. He was 24 pitching at A-ball, however, and he told MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr this winter that he knew he was old for the level, so it wasn't until he went to the Arizona Fall League and faced that competition that his confidence began to grow:
"'The opportunity to go to the fall league and I think it was just seeing myself pitch against that competition, being able to get guys out at that level, and they say 60 percent of the guys that go to that league make the big leagues.'"
Barrett made the AFL Rising Stars Game (and was told 90% of players who do that make the majors) after putting up a 3.27 ERA and 3.11 FIP with two walks (1.64 BB/9) and 10 Ks (8.18 K/9) in 11 IP for a Salt River Rafters squad managed by Matt Williams.
Pitching at Double-A Harrisburg in the Nats' organization as a 25-year-old in 2013, Barrett saved 26 games, finishing the year with a 2.15 ERA, 1.87 FIP, 15 walks (2.68 BB/9) and 69 Ks (12.34 K/9) in 50 1/3 IP.
Baseball America listed Barrett as having the Best Slider in the organization for the second-straight season on its year-end list of the top prospects in the Nationals' system last November. After his fourth pro campaign, the Nationals noted in a press release on their decision to add the right-hander to the 40-Man Roster, that, "...Barrett's 26 saves ranked second in both the [Double-A] Eastern League and Washington's system and he earned a spot on the Eastern League's mid-season All-Star team."
While acknowledging that Baseball America mentioned Barrett's slider as the system's best, however, they wrote that, "some label the pitch a power curve." Barrett's pitching coach at Double-A, Paul Menhart, is apparently one of those people.
In an article by the Washington Post's James Wagner last summer, Menhart, who has since become the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs' Pitching Coach, said it was more a hard curve and a devastating pitch:
"'I call it hard breaking ball,' Harrisburg pitching coach Paul Menhart said. 'It doesn’t have that traditional spin. It doesn’t have a traditional 12-to-6 curveball type spin. But it comes out of his slot the same as his fastball and it makes it difficult for hitters to distinguish it for the most part to make that adjustment. It’s got such hard bite. It’s 84 to 86 miles an hour. It’s a very hard, sharp breaking ball.'"
Matt Williams, now the Nationals' manager, was asked this week how the pitcher he sees now in Spring Training compares to the 6'4'' right-hander he managed in the AFL.
"I saw him in the Fall League," Williams said, "and it was certainly at the end of the season, gone through a full season and that time of year, you certainly don't feel like you feel right now. But it's really good. Hard sink certainly to his arm side. Good slider. It's more of what I saw in the Fall League, I think it's a tick up though. He's racheted it up from where I saw him last."
Williams told reporters that Barrett's fastball velocity has impressed this Spring. "It's got to be low-to-mid [90s]," he said, "And the ball is moving. Which is good. From what I know of him, again, it's a small sample size, six weeks, but from what I know of him he wants to go to his slider, because that's a really good pitch. We're encouraging him to pitch more with his fastball and use his sinker effectively and he's shown us that. He's been good. I've been impressed. He's ticked up since I saw him last."
Assuming he starts the season at Triple-A Syracuse, since the competition for the major league bullpen is fierce with few openings, the now-26-year-old is in a good position to reach his goal of pitching in the majors at some point this season, assuming he continues to throw like he has in the last few years.