There are few places better for baseball than Arizona. The warm weather, strong college programs and the Cactus League make for a baseball fan’s dream and hotbed of talent.
Jake Barrett is all too familiar with the state’s diamond amenities. The Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher was one of the state’s best high school players in 2009, setting state records at the time with 19 home runs and 65 RBIs.
Did I mention he pitches too?
Barrett is imposing on the mound, standing at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds. His fastball touches the upper 90s and a slider has a bite on it. He struck out 99 batters his senior year at Desert Ridge High School.
He turned down a shot at the MLB when the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him in the third round of 2009 MLB Draft and made his way to Tempe to pitch for Arizona State. Jumping between relief pitching and starting, Barrett struck out 151 batters in three years and had a 1.62 ERA his junior season.
“Out of high school, I was a starter. Then I went to ASU, and they basically taught me to pound the zone and pitch inside. That’s what I’ve been doing for the most part,” Barrett said.
When the 2012 MLB Draft rolled around, the hometown Arizona Diamondbacks came calling in the third round. The Valley-native would be pitching in the Cactus League a mere 30 miles from where he grew up. It was a dream come true, and something Barrett thought would ever be a possibility.
“Not at all,” Barrett said with a laugh. “I never really thought about that. I thought at Desert Ridge about going to college and just go to school and work hard at baseball.”
Barrett navigated his way through the minors, including a 2013 where he posted a 1.21 ERA, and was added to the Diamondbacks 40-man roster. At age 24, he now shares a clubhouse with guys he used to follow growing up, including current closer Brad Ziegler.
“It was hard not to watch him because of the way he throws,” Barrett said. “To be able to throw with him after playing video games being him or watching him throw, it’s a cool experience.”
Since getting to Salt River Fields this spring, Barrett has been a sponge, soaking up whatever knowledge he can from his fellow relievers. With a bullpen filled with the likes of the aforementioned Ziegler, Daniel Hudson and newly-acquired Tyler Clippard, Barrett isn’t short on resources.
“I’m basically going and trying to learn from them to see how they pitch and see if that works for you, and then going out there and doing what you’re used to doing.”
And the coaches are taking notice. Manager Chip Hale said pitching coach Mike Butcher, bullpen coach Garvin Alston and quality assurance coach and former Diamondback pitch Mike Fetters have each spoken to him individually about Barrett’s progress.
“In the two years I’ve been here, it’s the best I’ve seen him,” Arizona Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale said. “He came here early, he’s been throwing the ball downhill really well. I know the pitching coaches are really excited.”
Throughout the wear and tear of an 162-game season, depth will be needed, arms will get tired and innings will need to be eaten. Having a player like Barrett to do just that excites Hale.
“Injuries happen in baseball. We don’t want them to but they happen, and you have to have guys that you can depend on that are in the minor leagues,” Hale said.
“But he’s going to fighting for a spot on the major league roster right now.”
The next few weeks will be crucial for Barrett to earn that spot.
Good thing he has a home-state advantage.