Right-hander Aaron Barrett made a huge jump this season. Going from low Single-A to Double-A doesn't happen every day. But Barrett showed he belonged with an amazing start to finish, displaying closer stuff, beginning all the way back in the 2012 Arizona Fall League.
It all came together this month when the 25-year-old Barrett got one of those phone calls he had dreamed about. His contract was selected for placement on the Nationals' 40-man roster.
"It is definitely something that I have had my mind on," Barrett recalled. "I haven't been trying to focus too much on it. Finally, (director of player development) Mark Scialabba and Mike Rizzo gave me the call. About a week previous to that, they told me I am going to the rookie development program in Leesburg, Va., in January. I kind of had a feeling that it was going to happen.
"But at the same time, nothing was official and I just wanted to make sure it was set in stone before I got my hopes up because I know in the game of baseball a lot of things can happen. I knew it wasn't official until it is official. But to get that call and have Mike tell me that I deserved it and that I really worked hard for this (was very special)."
Barrett joined Sammy Solis and Michael Taylor as the latest players the Nationals have placed on their 40-man roster.
Barrett sat down and thought about what the moment meant to him. All those baseball games, all the work he had put in. He also knew it wasn't his biggest goal, but it certainly was a huge milestone.
"It is very humbling and it is a blessing," the former Ole Miss hurler said. "But I know that in my heart and my mind, this is just a first step. This isn't my dream or goal of where I want to be long term. I know that this is the first step in achieving making it to the big leagues and staying there for a long, long time. That is the ultimate goal. Getting put on the 40-man definitely is the first step in the right direction and I am ready to continue to keep working for a long time."
Numbers don't lie, and Barrett had them in 2013. He went 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA and 26 saves, striking out 69 batters in 50 1/3 frames. That makes for a stunning 1.37 strikeout-to-inning ratio.
So what was the difference? Did a light turn on? A pitch suddenly work? Barrett details how it was a lot of different forces working together. But it certainly started with his belief in his stuff. And he knew the clock was ticking.
"Difference this year was just building on confidence from last year," Barrett said. "I know I was old for the level. I was 24-years-old in low-A. I knew I just had to take it to another notch and another level after 2012. Things just started clicking there. I started closing. The opportunity to go to the fall league and I think it was just seeing myself pitch against that competition, being able to get guys out at that level, and they say 60 percent of the guys that go to that league make the big leagues. And if you make it to the Rising Stars (All-Star) game, and I did, they told me 90 percent of the guys that make that game make it to the big leagues. My eyes kind of opened up a little bit saying, 'Wow, you have an opportunity here to do something and just take advantage of it.'
Moving to Harrisburg was big for Barrett, and working with top pitching coach Paul Menhart and then-manager Matt LeCroy.
"I pushed for making Double-A and I had an opportunity to be able to work with pitching coach Paul Menhart," Barrett said. "We started out about mid-season and I didn't have a changeup. My fastball velocity actually went up during the course of the season for whatever reason. But I continued to get stronger in my velocity, my slider was still sharp and then I added a changeup which I think is going to take me to that whole other level especially at the big league level.
"You have to be able to have something (else). Having a changeup and being able develop it and throw it, that was where Menhart really helped me and developed me on the mental side. He is just a tremendous coach. Also, Matt LeCroy helped me tremendously, as well."
He also is motivated by watching his buddies he played alongside in Harrisburg get the call to D.C. and play so well.
"Being a part of that (Double-A) Harrisburg team and seeing Taylor Jordan, Nate Karns, Anthony Rendon, Ian Krol go up" did not go unappreciated, Barrett said. "All these guys just keep going up. That just gives other guys confidence, like if you perform you are going to get a shot. That is great for the organization because they want guys that want to win and they want guys that are going to go up there and compete.
"It is really good to see as a player. Especially now being a part of the 40-man, I have a shot on just getting the call just like that. It is really encouraging to see. Credit goes to the organization for being able to build a farm system where you can just call up guys after guys after guys and be able to plug them into the big leagues. That is really impressive. It is cool to see your teammates be able to do that."
And when Barrett is on the mound, staring at the catcher's glove and seeing the batter step in, his mind is clear.
"My mindset was keep it simple, one pitch at a time, win every single pitch," Barrett said. "That is in my mindset ever since. My whole thing is to control the things that you can control. At the end of the day I am going to leave it all on the field. That is all that I can do."