Top 30 Cincinnati Prospects: No. 14

Tucker Barnhart has been a steady, unspectacular catching prospect since coming to Cincinnati as he continued to rise up their system. His MLB debut last year was sooner than expected and continued progress at Louisville this season will go a long way toward ownership of the Reds backup catching duties going forward.

2014 was big year for Tucker Barnhart. Coming into the season he was hopeful to prove himself at Louisville in order to earn an expansion call. Instead and injury to Devin Mesoraco opened up a spot for him on the opening day roster. The end result was an MLB debut for the catcher at the age of 23 with nary a single game of AAA experience.

Unfortunately that was probably the highlight of his season. He tied a game with his first and only MLB home run before it was ultimately decided with a five-run eighth inning. Overall he hit less than .200 for the Reds, but maintained his rookie status despite five different call-ups. He debuted at Louisville after his first taste with the Reds and while in the International League he acquitted himself well. His overall line of .246 AVG/.319 OB/.316 SLG wasn’t anything to write home about, but it sounds better when considering that he was young for the level.

Don’t expect the slugging percentage to get much better for Barnhart, though it would be nice if he could raise it over .400. Instead he offsets lack of power with on-base skills. Back in 2012 he struggled at AA after a midseason promotion but came back with a near-.350 OB mark at Pensacola the next season. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t make a similar jump with the Bats in 2015.

That is, when he’s not on the I-71 shuttle between Cincinnati and the Derby City. Every team will need some duty from a third catcher and Barnhart has secured that for the Reds in the upcoming season. About the only knock on Mesoraco’s 2014 campaign was some stints on the DL and the Reds are hopeful they won’t happen again. Behind him is 2014 free agent signee Brayan Pena who turned out to be a nice signing. The biggest problem with the journeyman was that he was needed action above and beyond of what should have been expected from a backup. Next is Barnhart who has worked his way into an inside track on Pena’s job when the 33 year-old finishes the final year on his contract this season.

The biggest reason he’s in that position is his strongest asset, skills behind the plate. Cincinnati will be comfortable calling on him to fill in when needed because he’s already MLB-ready defensively. He’s thrown out at least 35% of opposing base-stealers at every stop including erasure of 8 out of 12 while with the Reds. He still profiles as a Ryan Hanigan type, great defense, little power, and knows the way to first base.

So Barnhart continues his develop and remains a low-risk/low-ceiling prospect. Perhaps he no longer profiles as a regular at the MLB level, but that might have been a stretch before. On the other hand his skills behind the plate project him as a backup with a significant tenure at the MLB level. Now he needs to continue developing at the plate, be available when the Reds need him, and get ready to be a mainstay on the Reds roster come expansion seasons.

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