As he continues his march to the major leagues, Trey Barham is looking to make a little bit of history. If he cracks a big league roster, Barham will become only the second alum of the Virginia Military Institute to play major league baseball (the only other is right-hander Ryan Glynn, who pitched for the Rangers, Blue Jays and A's over parts of five seasons). Barham has been a solid late-round draft pick by the A's, who picked him up in the 25th round in 2008 after he completed a four-year career at VMI.
Since turning pro, Barham has found success at every level he has pitched. Starting in 2009, Barham moved into the bullpen full-time and he has posted ERAs of 2.95 or lower in each of the past three seasons. For his career, he has struck-out more than seven batters per nine innings and has a 1.23 WHIP. He has also allowed only 12 homeruns in 225 innings pitched.
Last season, Barham made the leap to Double-A and posted a 6-2 record with a 2.95 ERA and one save for the Midland Rockhounds. He continued his trend of being a groundball pitcher, inducing 1.77 groundouts for every flyout. After the Rockhounds' season concluded, Barham was promoted to Triple-A to help bolster the Sacramento River Cats' bullpen during their run into the Pacific Coast League finals.
Barham is currently participating in the A's first minor league spring training mini-camp. With the extra work he has received at the camp, Barham could be called on by the A's during a big league spring training game in March. We spoke with Barham about the camp, his 2011 season and more…
OaklandClubhouse: How are the first few days of the mini-camp going? What sort of stuff do they have you doing?
Trey Barham: It's really light. Light stretching to begin and then we'll do our throwing work with our sticks. Then our throwing program for guys that are doing sides. We are in two groups – A and B – so if today A faced hitters in live BP, then we'll [Group B] do it tomorrow. Today we did a bunch of live PFP [pitchers fielding practice] work with Lefty [Craig Lefferts]. After that, we went inside today and did some goal-setting type stuff, so a little bit of mental work. And that was it for today.
It's been really light, but it's been good because it gets us out here early and is getting us excited for camp. It's a really weird group that is here. It seems like you are really young or you've been here for four or five years. [laughs]
OC: Have you mixed at all with any of the guys in big league camp? You are kind of sharing the complex at this point, it seems like.
TB: I've played with a couple of them, so here and there I get to see them. [Neil] Wagner, [Andrew] Carignan, [Sean] Doolittle, [Jerry] Blevins, I know those guys. They will come into the training room and do all of their shorter stuff right there. In passing, it's kind of hard not to say hi.
OC: Knowing that you were going to be reporting to camp a little bit earlier than normal, did that change your off-season preparation at all?
TB: A little bit. I started my throwing program a little bit earlier knowing that I was going to be coming here. As far as workouts and all that, that really didn't change it much. I got a pretty good feel for what it was going to be like last year. I came out two or three weeks earlier than when we were supposed to, so the feel is kind of the same this year, except that this is a lot more structured because we are supposed to be here. It's organized, whereas last year was more come-and-go as you please. I had an idea of what it was going to be like because of last year. We didn't have a mini-camp, but there were a bunch of guys who came out early.
OC: What are your goals for spring training? Was there anything that you worked on this off-season that you are hoping to show improvement with during spring training or anything that you are looking to improve during these few weeks of camp?
TB: I've definitely been working on my change-up a lot more so I can be more effective against right-handers. I don't mind the role of left-handed specialist. I love the role. It's great because I kind of get to focus on doing one thing, but I want to be able to do more because I think it will give me a better shot of reaching the big leagues and staying. Instead of being a left-handed guy coming in just to face lefties, if I can get right-handers out just as well, I might be in more of a long-relief type role and get in in different situations, rather than just left-on-left. Really I'm focusing on getting a better feel for the change-up so I can get better against righties.
OC: You made the jump from A-ball to Double-A last season. A lot of people talk about that being the hardest jump in the minor leagues. What was the biggest adjustment for you in moving up to that level?
TB: Hitters are a lot more patient. In A-ball, you can throw pretty much anything near the strike-zone and they are going to swing. The only way to move up as a hitter is to hit. You aren't really going to sit there and take walks. It's great. I know some guys do. [Conner] Crumbliss is excellent at it and that is kind of what has gotten him to where he is at, but most guys want to hit. You can flip first pitch breaking balls and first pitch change-ups to these guys and they will roll over.
When you get to Double-A, these guys know what they are doing. They are really patient, really good hitters. They have no tendencies. You face them a lot so they know what you are doing and you know what they are trying to do. It's kind of hard to pitch off of your game, so that they aren't thinking what you are thinking. You kind of have to out-think them.
OC: You had a chance to join the Sacramento River Cats for the playoffs last year. What was that experience like?
TB: It was awesome. Most guys don't get a chance to pitch in big, big games like that. Triple-A playoffs are pretty legit. We had some 14,000, 15,000 people in Sac. for a playoff game, so being called on in a big situation like that was really cool. Getting a chance to be around some of the older guys and being in a big game was a good push. I didn't get nervous. I wasn't scared at all. I felt pretty comfortable. Being there and being able to do that on that stage, I know that if I get back to Triple-A this year, it's going to be a better transition. I'm not going to be star-struck.
OC: Do you feel like you are entering this season with more confidence that you can handle the upper levels than perhaps you felt at the start of last year?
TB: Yes. I feel skill-wise I can compete at Triple-A right now. They called me up obviously and I was able to do what they had me there for, come out of the bullpen and get outs. I am confident that I can get there and be pretty competitive. I know there is still stuff I need to work on, otherwise I'd be in big league camp, but right now I'm doing everything I can to get there. I'm not timid at all. I can go and just throw.
OC: You've always been a groundball pitcher. What has the key been for you to get guys to hit on the top of the baseball rather than getting underneath it?
TB: A lot of two-seam sinkers and sliders. Anything that goes down. I hardly ever pitch off of my four-seam fastball. I try to stay down in the ‘zone, which is something that I have been pretty good at doing since college. All through college I was a sinker guy. Just being able to work through the middle of the ‘zone down, just trying to get guys to hit the ball into the dirt, that is just something that I have always been able to do.
OC: You've been in the bullpen for a few years now, having made that transition away from being a starter. Do you like the bullpen role better than being a starter?
TB: I love it. I have come into very few games that are blow-out situations, so most of the time it is a three-run game or closer. I get to pitch more. I hate not pitching, so if I was a starter, four days out of every five I would know that I wasn't going to be pitching. But in this role, I could have thrown Monday and Tuesday and it's Wednesday and the phone rings and my heart jumps because it could still be me. Being on call every day, it's really easy to get into a rhythm. I know that I have to do this and this and this to get ready to pitch tonight. Being in big games and big situations, that's what makes it fun.
OC: How do you pace yourself when you know you are going to be making 55-60 appearances during a season?
TB: It starts in September once the season is over. When we get our strength and conditioning program, it usually calls for two or three lifts a week for a pretty good lift. I like to go to the gym six or seven days a week. I'll cut those loads in half and do that each day, so my body gets to know that every single day to expect this much. When it comes to the season, every day of the week, my body is expecting that I will have to do this and this and this every single day. My first off-season I started with that approach and that following year, my stuff was just that much better when I was in Stockton. I've done that now the past two off-seasons. Hopefully the trend continues.
OC: By the end of the year, are you feeling worn down or are you pretty strong throughout the season?
TB: I threw a lot last year, and when I got to Sac. I felt good. I wasn't tired, I wasn't sore. I just felt really good. I felt like I could have pitched further into the playoffs if we had kept going, but it didn't work out. I didn't get tired or feel like I was dragging, by any means.
OC: A number of the players from your draft class  have moved up together through the ranks. Is it helpful to have a core group of guys that you have played with year after year?
TB: Yeah, there is definitely a comfort level to it. I have roomed with [Jeremy] Barfield since we were in Kane County really. We've always been roommates on the road. You can get into a rhythm really. I know his sleeping pattern; he knows mine. He knows that I get the shower first. [laughs] It's just really easy. You get to the clubhouse and certain guys play cards. When guys move up with you, you know that you have a card game going.
It's nice to have the familiar faces and not feel awkward. We keep in touch during the off-season. Me, Barfield, [Shawn] Haviland, [Brett] Hunter, [Anthony] Capra, that group of guys, we've been together for awhile now. And some of the '09 guys – [Michael] Spina and [Stephen] Parker – we've been pretty much moving up all together. Scars [Manager Steve Scarsone] had us all in Kane County and has moved on up with us, so hopefully he won't be too far behind us.
OC: With you guys being in early, there is always that chance that you'll get to pitch in a big league spring training game. What would it mean to you to have that opportunity to pitch in a big league spring training game?
TB: I've been waiting to do that for three years now. I've gone over there each of the past few years. Last year I went over there probably 20 different times and never got in. Just to be able to get in would be great. To be able to test yourself is important. It would be great to see where I am at compared to some of the other guys. When I get into a big league game, it's probably going to be against some of the younger guys like me in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning, but it is still guys who other organizations look at as their next big league players. It would be a fun test to get in there in front of a spring training crowd and see what I can do.