The nerves, excitement and awe for a kid weeks removed from his high school prom is going to get the better of him. Most times, it takes weeks, if not months, for a player so young to get comfortable with his new surroundings. The stadiums and crowds are bigger, fastballs are a little faster. The curveballs have more curve, and those lights, those lights are just a little brighter.
For Keon Barnum, the White Sox’ sandwich pick (48th overall) in the 2012 draft out of King HS in Tampa, Florida, it took one game. After going 0-for-3 in his debut for the Bristol White Sox of the Appalachian League, the 6’-5”, 220-pound left-hander has gone 7-for-12 (.583) with three home runs and seven RBI over his last three, including a home run in all three games.
At 19 years old, he was a year older than most of his peers in high school. That was a knock on him as some scouts though his development should have been further along. With his long swing, he had a tendency to swing and miss a lot. Arguably, he had the most raw power of anyone in his class, but probably wouldn’t hit for a high average because of his all-or-nothing approach. Reggie Jackson was a .262 career hitter and has the most strikeouts in major league history with 2,597. He also finished with 563 home runs, 1702 RBI, an MVP award, 14 All-Star game appearances and is in the Hall of Fame.
Sometimes, scouts nitpick on certain areas and focus on the negative too much. Barnum may not ever be a high-average hitter, but what exactly is a high-average hitter anyway? Currently, 26 players in baseball are hitting at least .300, roughly seven percent of all hitters. Willie Bloomquist of the Diamondbacks is hitting .292, scouts would say that is a high average. He also has zero home runs, 12 RBI and a slash line of .325/.394/.718. Adam Dunn of the White Sox is hitting .222, scouts would say that is definitely not a high average. He is also leading the majors with 23 home runs, has 53 RBI and a slash line of .368/.547/.915. He hits 70 points lower than Bloomquist, yet gets on base at a considerably higher clip. Who has been more valuable to their team this season?
Batting average is overrated.
Especially when considering the role of a player. Barnum is going to be a run producer at the next level. He will bat in the four or five spot and knock out 30-40 home runs with ease. He has extremely quick wrists which gives him the bat speed to be able to catch up to anything thrown to him. He drew 26 walks in 25 games as a senior, showing a great understanding of the strike zone and the ability to be patient at the plate, waiting for the right pitch. He may strike out 150 times a year in the majors, but Matt Kemp had 170 punch outs in 2010, 159 in 2011.
Barnum is the heir to Paul Konerko’s throne at first base. With Konerko seemingly getting better the older he gets, the White Sox can afford to be patient with Barnum and let him refine his all-around game. He was older than most of his competition in high school and outclassed most of them. Now, on a more level playing field, he continues to do the same.