A's prospect Franklin Barretto not a lock for opening day

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MESA, Arizona — Franklin Barreto’s locker inside the clubhouse at Hohokam Stadium sits right at the entrance. A hallway separates that locker from those that are filled by A’s stars like Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Chad Pinder.

It’s fitting for where Barreto currently stands at his career in relation to those three.

Just a couple of years ago Barreto was not only ascending through the minor leagues alongside those three, but he was also considered the best prospect of the bunch. Barreto was ranked the A’s top hitting prospect from 2016-17. Yet while Chapman, Olson and Pinder have established themselves as everyday big leaguers, Barreto is still waiting for his shot to join them in major league success.

“I know he could do it at this level,” Olson said. “It’s one of those things where you have to wait for your opportunity and when you get it, run with it.”

That opportunity will be hard to come by for Barreto after the A’s traded for Jurickson Profar this offseason and announced he would be the everyday second baseman. Knowing the second-base job is blocked, Barreto has been playing in the outfield this spring in an effort to create more versatility that he believes will enhance his chances of becoming a mainstay in the majors.

But guys like Chapman, a teammate of Barreto’s at Single-A Stockton in 2015 when the Venezuelan infielder was only 19, already know what he can do. They’ve witnessed it first-hand.

“I remember from the first time we played together in Stockton, he just wowed me,” Chapman said. “The ball jumps off his bat and he can really run. I loved playing with him down there and I hope I can play with him for a long time up here.”

There isn’t much more Barreto could have done to make his case for a spot on the opening-day roster this spring. He’s been the A’s top hitter with a .387 batting average over 13 games and has looked more and more comfortable on defense with each rep he’s had in left and center field.

Barreto, 23, will join the A’s in Japan and is expected to be on the active roster for their two regular-season games at the Tokyo Dome against the Seattle Mariners, but that is only because the club can carry 28 players on the active roster for those games. With the A’s expected to carry 13 pitchers and 12 position players for their March 28 opening-day roster, Barreto will likely be the odd man out.

But even though he’ll likely be left off the roster, that doesn’t mean his improvements have gone unnoticed. A’s general manager David Forst has been impressed with Barreto’s willingness to play multiple positions. Combine that with his offensive success in the Venezuelan Winter League — which saw him finish third in MVP voting — and a strong second half at Triple-A last year in addition to his big numbers this spring, it’s clear that his stock is trending up in the organization.

“It’s pretty obvious he is making strides,” said Forst, who did not rule out Barreto’s chances of cracking the opening-day roster. “For now he’s coming with us to Japan and I expect he’ll be active for those two Mariners games. Who knows what kind of opportunity he might get.”

So what does Barreto need to do in order to stick in the big leagues?

In previous years, the A’s had placed an emphasis on Barreto lowering his strikeout totals. Those numbers improved in Venezuela and have looked better this spring. There’s nothing specific Forst believes Barreto needs to improve now — it’s about showing he can hit in the majors on a regular basis.

His career .215 batting average in his time over two big league seasons is a far cry from his minor league numbers that have seen him routinely hit close to .300 while posting double-digit home run and stolen base totals.

“When he’s come up to the big leagues, offensively he’s been exposed a little bit, as any young player might be,” Forst said. “It’s the consistency you look for in a young player. That’s what keeps you in the big leagues.”

Consistency is key. But that can also be tough to develop when there’s no consistency in playing time.

Barreto was called up from the minors and sent back down six different times in 2018. In those stints, he never got more than a couple of days in a row as a starter. The bulk of his playing time came off the bench and he ended the year with a .233 batting average in 32 games.

Olson was once that “yo-yo” guy who bounced from the minors to the majors. He was recalled and optioned five times in 2017 before putting an end to all that in August of that year as he went on a tear and clubbed 24 home runs in only 189 at-bats.

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