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What to expect from Hunter Barnhart and the Tampa Bay Rays in 2020? 

The Tampa Bay Rays used their fourth draft pick of the close season to snap up Paso Roblan pitcher Hunter Barnhart for the 2020/21 Major League Baseball (MLB) season. The 18-year-old became the 96th player to be selected overall in the draft, despite having previously committed his short-term future to the Arizona State University. The graduate from St. Joseph High took the monumental decision to sign professional terms with the Rays instead, securing a contract worth $585,000.

The story of Hunter Barnhart

Barnhart was something a sporting prodigy at high school. During his first two years in Paso Robles, Barnhart excelled both as a quarterback in the school football team and a pitcher for the school baseball team. He would go on to transfer to St. Joseph High for his third year, where he would then be named MVP of the school’s football team, despite choosing to forge a professional career in baseball.

In his senior year with St. Joseph High, Barnhart opted to focus his efforts solely on attracting MLB interest in the upcoming draft. MLB scouts started to flock to his games during the shortened 2020 season. Barnhart was still able to register 18 strike-outs in this period, registering a 0.64 ERA in two games.

A recent scouting report on Barnhart’s MLB attributes suggested that his curveball was undoubtedly his biggest weapon as a pitcher. It was regarded as major-league quality, along with his fastball and overall control. His fastball has been registered as quick as 96mph, while his exciting curveball has been clocked at between 77 and 80mph. Barnhart is thankful to his father for teaching him the curveball grip several years ago and after trying several “different grips”, Barnhart says it is now a pitch that he is “very confident in”.

What does 2020 hold for Barnhart and the Rays?

Entrance to Tropicana Field through Main Rotunda. Photo by Tampabay721 / CC BY-SA 3.0

 

At 6 foot 2” and 205 pounds, Barnhart is an impressive physical specimen. Whether he is ready yet to cut it with the Rays’ seniors remains to be seen. It is more likely that Barnhart will be enrolled in a rookie camp to perform at one of the Rays’ affiliated minor league teams.

As for the Rays themselves, it could be an exciting 2020 MLB season for Tampa fans. Barnhart must surely be excited to sign for one of the most fancied MLB clubs for the coming year. In the World Series MLB betting futures market, the Rays are currently available at a best price of +1500. That makes Tampa Bay the joint-fifth favorites to bag their inaugural World Series title.

There is a growing sense that the Rays have what it takes to upset the applecart and reach the 2020 World Series. Admittedly they reached the 2019 playoffs and came within a whisker of overcoming the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series, but there is a feeling that this could finally be the year that the Rays make their mark. Steady, organic improvements have been made to the Rays’ roster in recent years. From registering just 68 wins in the 2016 season, three years later they recorded an impressive 96.

Several of the major MLB analysts and reporters are tipping the Rays to be either the last team standing or potential World Series performers. Their roster has a steady balance of experienced pros and a trio of starters in Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell that are capable of lighting up any MLB game in the opening exchanges. The shortened season may work in the Rays’ favor too, with its best pitchers more likely to be fit and fresh throughout 60 regular season games instead of 162.

Nevertheless, the preseason data models still suggest that the Astros, Dodgers and Yankees are the teams to beat in 2020. Although it would be increasingly foolish to write off the Rays, even if they have the fourth-smallest budget in the entire MLB – what an achievement a World Series would be for a team that’s only ever won the American League once in its 22-year history.

 



About the author: Access Publishing

Scott Brennan is the publisher of this newspaper and founder of Access Publishing. Connect with him on Paso Robles Daily News on Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, or follow his blog.