Today we bring you the first of several treats this off-season: Interviews with real, live players! Brandon Barnes was good enough to answer some questions for us.
AC: You were a 2005 6th Round draft pick, despite not having played organized baseball all that long. Can you talk about your high schoo/JuCo baseball career, and what led up to the draft?
BB: I grew up with a passion for baseball, it started when I was 4 years old. when I was 10, I started playing football and fell in love with the physical aspect of the game, and how fun it was to be able to hit someone while playing a game. As I entered high school, I decided to play football and baseball - as a sophomore I played varsity baseball and football as a starting 3rd baseman and safety/wide receiver.
I did not have that great of a baseball career in high school but dominated the football field. So as my senior year came around I made the decision to quit baseball and fulfill a dream of playing D1 football and then on to the NFL, but like I said, my passion since I was a child was baseball. I had scholarships to UCLA and Colorado State, and towards the end of the signing period my scholarships fell through with both schools, and I decided to walk on at Cypress Junior College.
At Cypress, I did not even know what the amateur draft was, so it really helped to just have fun playing baseball. Towards the end of the season is when colleges and pro scouts started talking to me and coming to my house. I was slotted between the 10th and 12th round of the draft, so when my name was called in the sixth round I was in shock. I didn't believe that someone thought I was that good. It was a childhood dream coming true.
AC: One of the things that we fans talk about (those of us who follow the minors, anyway) is the Lancaster Effect. Last year you hit 12 homers in 68 games at Lancaster, and 27 in the Cal League this season - though you hit almost as many homers on the road as you did at home. How do you approach hitting in Lancaster compared to other places you've played in your career?
BB: Everybody believes that there is this big upside to playing in Lancaster for homeruns. The fact is that you still have to hit the ball good to get it out of the park as a right handed hitter. The wind blows out to right field and I never changed my swing to hit the ball to right field. My approach was to stay right up the middle and try to drive the ball at the center fielder. I believe I have enough power to hit the ball out of any park I play in. I do not try to hit home runs - just line drives, and the line drives will turn into home runs. The secret is not to change your approach and just mature as a hitter.
AC: Back in June you hit for the cycle, the day after Freddy Parejo did it. What was going through your mind during the game?
BB: The funny part of that day is from the moment I stepped into the clubhouse, I told freddy that I was going to do whatever he did that day: stretch, throw, workout, the same amount of sprints, and whatever he ate, I was going to eat - not ever thinking I was going to actually repeat what he did the night before.
My first at bat, I hit a home run, still nothing going through my mind at that point. 2nd at bat I actually struck out, so I was nowhere even close to thinking about a cycle. 3rd at bat was the triple, and at that point I was thinking that if I was able to get two more at bats, I could have a chance. 4th at bat was the double and from there it was all over my mind: am I going to get another at bat, could I actually do it? 5th at bat came and I had to step out of the box and take a deep breath because my mind was racing. I actually swung at a changeup down in the zone and hit a slow roller to the shortstop, and I don't think I have ever ran that fast in my life.
AC: The Astros had three players at Corpus get popped with a 50-game suspension for using what looks like an over-the-counter supplement. As you're a slugger, how does the concern about supplements and possible suspensions affect your workout regimen?
BB: I am not too concerned, because I do not use anything over the counter. I use NSF-certified supplements. I will never change my workout regimen because I believe my workouts help with my strength speed and agility. It's just one of those things where it wasn't an illegal supplement, there was just something mixed in that was not suppose to be there.
Prior to this year, you struck out in about a quarter of your plate appearances (hang on, there's a good part coming). But that dropped off a little bit this season. What was your approach coming into 2010, and did it change last off-season?
BB: Yeah, I know I strike out a lot, but my approach did change last off-season. I have always been a free swinger, but I had to tone that down a little bit and sit on my pitch. Sitting on my pitch helps me to stay off of off-speed pitches and pitches that are not in my part of the strike zone. When I would get to two strikes I would try and battle, fight off pitches and try to get a hit.
What are your plans this off-season? What will you be doing between now and Spring Training?
BB: My plans this off-season are to go on vacation with my wife and relax. I am also trying to go play winter ball in MEXICO, so I can get more at bats and face better pitching. I am going to work even harder than I did last off season on my body and my approach so i can have a better year than this past year and keep growing as a baseball player.
Big thanks to Brandon, and we'll check back in with him later in the off-season to see how that vacation was. And about the winter ball thing.