Former St. Petersburg High pitcher Jacob Barnes faces Rays
The Tampa Bay region produces a ton of baseball players. According to data compiled by the Tampa Bay Times, at least 86 former Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas County high school students are active in the major and minor leagues.
Some of those alumni are renowned talents; Astros right-hander and Jesuit product Lance McCullers, who made the American League All-Star roster this year, is perhaps the most prominent example. Others have carved out successful careers as role players. Jacob Barnes, a former St. Petersburg High and Florida Gulf Coast pitcher, fits the latter description — he's become a solid reliever for the Brewers, who are facing the Rays this weekend at Tropicana Field.
Barnes excelled as a prep player — in 2008, he made second-team All-Pinellas County and represented the county in the 2008 Tampa Bay High School All-Star Classic. Although he struggled in his three years at Florida Gulf Coast, with a 5.78 ERA over 113-2/3 innings for the Eagles, the Brewers picked him in the 14th round (431st overall) in the 2011 MLB draft.
At first, the minor leagues presented some challenges for Barnes, who bounced between the rotation and bullpen and didn't quite stand out in either. But on May 18, 2015, he made what is to this point the last start of his pro career. From there, he became a reliever full-time and took off.
Over the rest of the 2015 season, Barnes posted a 2.82 ERA for Double-A Biloxi, with 56 strikeouts in 44-2/3 innings. He started off the 2016 season hot — at Triple-A Colorado Springs, he had a 1.21 ERA and 23 Ks through his first 22-1/3 frames — which earned him a ticket to the Show.
While Barnes' big-league ERA is 3.72, that doesn't tell the whole story. Over 75 MLB innings, he's collected 80 strikeouts, issued 26 walks and given up seven home runs. That means his FIP — a metric that uses those three statistics to gauge a pitcher's performance — is a superb 3.31; as a point of reference, the Rays' Alex Colome has a 3.30 FIP rate since becoming the team's closer last year.
What are the pitches that have brought Barnes this far? His 96.6 mph four-seam fastball lights up the radar gun, but his most deadly weapon is his slider, which checks in at 90.8 mph. That's not a typo — Barnes throws his breaking ball harder than some pitchers throw their fastballs, and in doing so he beats every other reliever in the NL. Thanks to that velocity, his slider has a breathtaking 25.9 percent swinging-strike rate and a .234 batting average against. As a late-inning reliever, Barnes can dominate with only two pitches in his arsenal.
Barnes is one of many native Floridians in professional baseball. As the Brewers take on the Rays, he'll have a chance to pitch in the stadium that's less than two miles from his high school. He might not be a star, but this former Green Devil and Eagle is still making a name for himself at the highest level in the world.