Right-hander Aaron Barrett just wrapped up a spectacular year, both personally and professionally. The Nationals prospect had an outstanding season as a reliever, moving up from low Single-A Hagerstown to high Single-A Potomac.
As the season came to a close, there were more surprises in store for Barrett. He knew he was going to get married to his fiancé, Kendyl, but the Nationals also rewarded him with an invitation to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. So Barrett got to enjoy a one-day honeymoon and then it was back to work with the Salt River Rafters.
"I got promoted to Potomac," Barrett said. "I was really excited about that. The last couple weeks of the season, they told me I might go out to Arizona Fall League, which I was super jacked about. So we talked about myself (and Kendyl) getting married. It was in the back of my mind.
"Then a week before instructional league, he told me I was heading out there. I got to go out there and enjoyed every second of it. I flew back for my wedding. I got to spend one day there after my wedding. Then I came right back out (to Arizona)."
Barrett threw every third day in Arizona, usually in the seventh inning. He finished with a 0-0 record and 3.27 ERA, with 10 strikeouts in 11 innings over 10 games. He was named to the Rising Stars Game in Arizona.
He remembers when he started to gain consistency on the mound in short-season Single A.
"Honestly, it kind of started clicking for me in 2011 in the last month and a half of the Auburn season," Barrett recollects. "I was frustrated having to go back to short-season for the second season. Obviously, I had something to prove. They wanted me to repeat that level. I just didn't have a very good year my first pro year. I understood that.
"I ended up closing in the last month and a half of the season and got nine or 10 saves. I took that momentum into closing for Hagerstown. It is kind of that mentality used to close that the last three outs are the toughest to get. I just try to pound the strike zone - whether I get hit or not, it doesn't matter. The only thing I can control is where I locate my pitches."
Barrett throws four-seam and two-seam fastballs in the 90-93 mph range, touching 94 mph every now and then. His slider is his best pitch, a big swing-and-miss pitch, and he gets a lot of strikeouts with it. He "mixes in an occasional changeup. It is still a work in progress but I will show it from time to time." Barrett uses his two-seam if he falls behind because it has good late action to it and he was getting a lot of ground balls.
The Rafters made it all the way to the AFL championship game before falling to Peoria 4-3. Barrett said they were good because they had a ton of talent but also meshed well from the first pitch.
"It was a great mix of guys," Barrett said. "They were all fun to get along with. We were all out there for the same reasons, trying to get better. The position players, too. We just had a lot of good chemistry. Our team had a blast out there."
Barrett believes the Nationals "like me in the bullpen, (But) I will do whatever they see me doing in the big leagues, whether it is the seventh-, eighth- or ninth-inning guy. Whatever the role is, I will be ready for it."
He does not know if he will begin next season for Potomac or somewhere else, but he is ready to continue the good feeling he had in a 2012 year that will be one he will remember for so many positive reasons.
"It has been a crazy, good year," Barrett said. "It has been unexpected, but that is the way life is. From getting married to starting out with a great team in Hagerstown, getting promoted to Potomac was awesome, going to the Arizona Fall league and being in the Rising Stars Game was a really neat experience. To top it off, I am getting my (liberal arts) degree from Ole Miss in December.
"I am just going to try to take the momentum from this year and take it into next year and keep it going."