That will soon change.
The former Etowah High School standout and four-year starter for Mercer was drafted by the Atlanta Braves during the 16th round of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Players Draft on June 7. Barker said he has continued to throw since then, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to play a game, or even pitch a simulated one.
Barker will get back into action after coming to terms with the Braves earlier this week. He is scheduled to report to the team’s rookie-level affiliate in Danville, Va., on Saturday.
“The season has been over for two weeks and I took some time off,” Barker said. “I’ve been throwing, but that’s it. I’ll jump right back into it, though, when I leave on Saturday.”
Barker said he had been in contact with several major league teams prior to the draft. The Braves were not among them.
“I knew I was going to get drafted at some point,” Barker said. “I had a really good feeling. Obviously, when the Braves drafted me, it was pretty exciting, because they are my hometown team. I’ve always grown up watching them play.”
Even if it hadn’t been the Braves who selected him, Barker said being drafted would have been a thrilling experience, as it is for anyone who grew up playing baseball and dreamt of becoming a pro.
“Any opportunity to play baseball past college is just a blessing,” Barker said. “I just want to go out and play the game that I have always played and show (the Braves) what I can do and what I am capable of.”
While the Braves have been plagued by injuries to their pitchers throughout the season, Barker knows that he likely won’t be called up to the majors this summer. He said it’s important for him to make progress as he might have a chance to move up in the minors to replace other players who are called up.
“I hope to develop more as a person and as a pitcher,” Barker said. “Hopefully, I can move up through the ranks of their farm system and continue to get better and improve the things they say I need to improve. Then, maybe, one day, I can make it to the big leagues.”
Barker doesn’t have one area to point to that he wants to improve. Rather, he’s ready to listen any advice that is given.
Looking back to his days pitching at Etowah, Barker said he wouldn’t recognize himself, as he’s changed so much.
“All my pitches have changed, my mentality has changed,” Barker said. “I’m definitely harder to upset on the mound. When stuff starts going bad, I get out of it much better than I used to. Obviously, I’m just better now because of my maturity and the four years of coaching that I went through at Mercer. I’m not the same pitcher at all.”
Barker’s advice to high school pitchers is to work hard and do everything that you can to set yourself apart from the others.
“Work does pay off,” he said. “If you work hard, you will definitely be successful in pitching and life as well.”
The right-handed Barker went 4-4 with a 3.84 ERA and team-high 68 strikeouts over 68 innings as a senior at Mercer. He graduated with a degree in environmental engineering, but hopes to put off starting that career for a while.
“You always dream of playing professional baseball,” Barker said. “If that opportunity presented itself, I was definitely willing to take the chance and play professional baseball and see how far it goes.”