The irony of growing up a Yankees fan and being selected by the Boston Red Sox with the 19th overall pick wasn’t lost on Matt Barnes.
“Its definitely ironic, but as much as I’ve always been a Yankees fan, I’ve always respected the Red Sox,” said Barnes, Boston's top overall pick, during a conference call Wednesday evening. “It’s a great team that develops players well. I’m very excited for the opportunity to play for the Red Sox. I know I’m going to take this opportunity and make the most of it.”
He was also faced with the unique dilemma of trying to win an NCAA Regional bracket while trying to track his name in the Major League Baseball Draft.
Barnes’ UConn teammates and coaches were kind enough to let him hang by the phone as the Huskies took batting practice at Clemson University’s Kingsmore Stadium. Once the game started, his network of friends in the crowd relayed messages letting him know which players were getting picked by which teams. When all was said and done, Barnes went off the board, and the Huskies drubbed Clemson 14-1 to win the Clemson region and advance to the Super Regionals.
Oddly enough, while acknowledging that scouts as well as general manager Theo Epstein had been to his starts this season, Barnes admitted he hadn’t spoken to the Red Sox in the days leading up to Monday’s selection.
“But I haven’t asked my dad whether he talked to them,” Barnes said.
Either way, it’s a satisfying journey for the junior righthander, who went undrafted coming out of Bethel (Conn.) High but was known for his live arm with a fastball clocked in the 90s. One of the things that allowed Barnes to grow so much in Storrs was his ability to focus on just one sport year-round. During his high school career, he played basketball during the winter, so had a small window of prep work before baseball season.
“I kinda grew as a person,” Barnes said. “I grew into my body, I put on some weight, I’ve gotten a lot stronger since high school.
“In high school, in my conference, if you threw 90 miles an hour you can be a dominant pitcher. You’re able to live off your fastball. At UConn, I was able to focus and settle in on one sport. That allowed me to hit the weight room hard. My weightlifting numbers significantly went up after the second year.”
With the Huskies headed to Columbia, S.C., this weekend for a chance to play in the College World Series, Barnes said there hasn’t been much talk about how quickly a deal will be made and if he’ll be able to see some short-season rookie ball.
“To be honest, I’m not sure,” he said. “Obviously I still have hopefully a few weeks at UConn. They might want me to take a little time off, or they may want me to keep going. They haven’t made a decision yet.”