It feels like Franklin Barreto has been around forever, but the A's highly-touted infield prospect is still just 22 years old.
A's fans have heard about Barreto's talent and upside since way back in 2014 when he came over from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade. Now it's time to find out if his potential translates into actual production at the Major League level.
A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Barreto was ranked as the top international prospect in 2012 by Baseball America. MLB Pipeline rated him as the A's top prospect from 2015-17, ahead of Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Sean Manaea. But Barreto has been stuck behind Jed Lowrie and Marcus Semien on the depth chart the past couple of seasons, spending most of his time at the Triple-A level.
Barreto has shown flashes of his potential in limited big league opportunities, blasting five home runs in 73 at-bats last season while slugging .493. In a two-game span in June, Barreto went 4-for-9 with three homers and nine RBI. On September 30, he launched a 444-foot moonshot to dead center field in Anaheim.
Other times, Barreto has looked a bit lost at the plate. He has struck out 62 times in 144 career at-bats, a staggering 43-percent clip more appropriate for a pitcher. Even in Triple-A last season, he fanned 118 times in 375 at-bats for a still-too-high rate of 31 percent.
Like many young hitters, Barreto must learn to lay off pitches out of the zone. Major League pitchers have tormented him with sliders low and away, especially in two-strike situations. If Barreto can improve his plate discipline, he has the natural ability to become an All-Star.
Barreto may very well get his opportunity next season if Oakland chooses not to re-sign Lowrie. The A's remain high on Barreto and still expect him to take over the everyday second base job in the near future.
Lowrie's recent success has complicated things. The veteran second baseman has put together back-to-back career seasons, notching 23 home runs and 99 RBI in 2018. Lowrie now enters free agency at the age of 34 and figures to attract plenty of interest.
The A's decision on Lowrie could reveal more about their thoughts on Barreto than anything else. If they elect to let Lowrie walk, it will be, in part, because they believe Barreto is ready to play at the Major League level for an entire season.
Barreto has all the tools to become a productive Major League slugger. Despite being undersized at just 5-foot-10, he has tremendous natural power to all fields. If he can learn to lay off pitches out of the strike zone, his average and power numbers will shoot up and he will add an extra layer to an already dangerous A's lineup.