The 2022 MLB Draft is quickly approaching and it is time to break down the game of another intriguing pitching prospect. Hunter Barco had to be shut down in May of his junior season after undergoing Tommy John surgery but was a key member of the Florida Gators rotation until that point. Without the injury, the southpaw may have been the first pitcher drafted this year. Nonetheless, he should hear his name called fairly early on during the draft in Los Angeles starting on July 17.
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Hunter Barco, LHP, Florida
Weight: 210 lbs.
2020: 5 G, 4 GS, 19 1/3 IP, 2-0, 1.40 ERA, 0.879 WHIP, 26 K, 6 BB
2021: 16 G, 83 IP, 10-3, 4.01 ERA, 1.241 WHIP, 94 K, 26 BB
2022: 9 G, 50 1/3 IP, 5-2, 2.50 ERA, 0.894 WHIP, 69 K, 11 BB
Barco was the top-ranked high school left-hander going into the 2019 MLB Draft but didn’t get selected until the 24th round by the New York Mets due to his strong commitment to the University of Florida. He had been named to the Florida Region All-High School Senior First Team and was a four-time All-First Coast selection during his time at The Bolles High School. The southpaw was dominant during the shortened 2020 season and made the 2021 SEC All-Newcomer Team with 94 strikeouts in 84 innings. Barco had been cruising through nine starts in the 2022 season before going down with the injury. He was named the top pitcher in college baseball by D1Baseball on March 30.
Barco is one of the more dominant pitchers in the game when he is healthy and added SEC success to his track record. If not for his strong commitment to Florida, he would have been drafted very early in the 2019 draft. This year the Tommy John surgery is stopping him from doing that again. His fastball-slider combination is what leads to a lot of the success he has had, as it is a deadly duo.
The fastball doesn’t blow anyone away, sitting around 92 mph and touching 95 mph, but it has solid life and he relies on finesse. Combine that with his deceptive, cross-body delivery and a sweeping 80 mph slider, and he can get batters off balance. The slider gets a lot of whiffs and can be manipulated to come out more like a curveball. He also has a changeup that can be effective, as well as consistently finding the strike zone with high strikeout-to-walk numbers.
Injuries have been the only real thing to slow Barco down, as he was also sidelined with a shoulder strain towards the end of his prep career. Teams will be wary of the injury history and will have to be confident that he can make a full recovery and return to form. Other than that, his funky delivery can be tough to repeat at times, which could cause a loss of command in the zone occasionally.
Pro Comparison: Patrick Corbin
Along with standing at similar statures (6’4″, 220 lbs), Corbin and Barco have very close pitch styles. Corbin also relies on finesse when pitching with a mid-90s fastball in his arsenal. The Nationals’ left-hander also carries a sinker, slider, and changeup with him. While Corbin has been struggling, his career has been successful up until this point. Barco could see similar success and be drafted in a similar spot. Corbin was taken by the Los Angeles Angels in the second round of the 2009 MLB Draft.
Draft Projection: Late Second, Early Third Round
Whoever drafts Barco will be rolling the dice with the southpaw coming off Tommy John. But whoever does take him will be hoping his high projectability and ceiling work out in their favor. A team like the Angels could take a chance on him if he makes it to pick 83 in the third round. The Angels have drafted college arms in the first round in back-to-back years, in Reid Detmers and Sam Bachman. With their history of top pitchers needing Tommy John (including Detmers), drafting a guy who already underwent the surgery could work out well. Especially an arm with his potential.
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Main Image Credit: From Florida Gators