MESA, Arizona — His teammates call him ‘Chiquito,’ which means ‘tiny’ in Spanish, but A’s top prospect Franklin Barreto transforms into a giant when he steps into the batter’s box.
Standing at 5-foot-10 according to his player bio, Barreto appears to be a little shorter in person. But the second baseman/shortstop has been putting on a show this spring with his propensity to crush home runs during batting practice, resembling another small-statured second baseman with thunder in his bat — 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve.
Barreto and Altuve share many of the same qualities. Aside from the unexpected power, Barreto, 22, has shown throughout the minor leagues he possesses the speed to wreak havoc on the bases as well as hit for a high average.
The one skill Altuve excels at that Barreto currently lacks? Plate discipline. Barreto struck out a combined 174 times in 540 at-bats last year in Triple-A and the major leagues. In an effort to reduce that number, Barreto is using spring training to shorten up his leg kick in two-strike counts. It’s a slight mechanical adjustment, but Barreto believes getting the front leg down earlier will afford him the opportunity to see the ball a little longer and find more contact.
“It’s a little strange for me,” Barreto said of the adjustment. “But I’m trying it to see how it goes.”
It’s a skill Triple-A Nashville coach Eric Martins, the man responsible for drafting A’s star Matt Chapman as a scout back in 2014, sees as the final phase left for Barreto to conquer in order to become an elite hitter.
While considering Barreto on the same level as Altuve would be ludicrous at this point, Martins couldn’t help but mention the Astros star when asked for a major league player comparison.
“If you look at the stature, who does he remind you of? Jose Altuve,” Martins said. “To put that on him would be tough, but if it comes, it can be as dynamic as him.
"This kid’s got special abilities. He’s got power. He has the ability to hit it all over the park with some doubles and triples. He can do it all. The only part of his development that I think is left is tightening up his strike zone.”
Swinging at bad pitches is not an easy habit to change, especially for a young hitter. But Martins believes there’s something different about Barreto.
The hot streak Barreto jumped out to in the first month of the season last year at Triple-A, which saw him hit .333 over 22 games, was described by Martins as “unbelievable” and unlike anything he had ever seen in his three years as a hitting coach in the A’s organization that has seen him work with the likes of Chapman and Matt Olson.
A’s pitcher Paul Blackburn, who was Barreto’s teammate in Nashville at the time, was also left amazed by what Barreto was doing.
“He didn’t miss a barrel. It was incredible to watch,” Blackburn said. “I see him being a guy who can make an impact this season.”
Barreto went on to hit .290 with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 111 games at Triple-A, but it was that first-month breakout that led Martins to start imagining the Altuve-like impact Barreto could bring to the majors.