- By Gary Schatz Contributing Writer
The Cincinnati Reds had an All-Star catcher in Devin Mesoraco, but they struck gold with a 10th-round draft pick when their star was hurt.
Tucker Barnhart will accept the Rawlings Gold Glove Award as the National League’s best defensive catcher before a regular-season home game.
The Brownsburg, Indiana native became the third Reds catcher to win the award, joining Johnny Edwards, who won two, and Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, who won 10.
“It was like icing on the cake,” Barnhart said. “It is the biggest award that I could get. Defense is what keeps me on the field. I’ve always taken pride in it.
“It is special to win the Gold Glove relatively early in my career.”
The award capped a dream offseason for Barnhart. Now the mild-mannered 27-year-old seeks to duplicate or surpass last year’s results.
It was a good year off the field for Barnhart as well. He knew before he left for Goodyear last February that he and his wife Sierra were expecting a son. Tatum Ellior was born Aug. 31. The anticipation didn’t interfere with Barnhart putting together the best season of his professional career.
“I got to learn how to be a dad,” Barnhart said. “It is awesome, the best thing ever. He’s growing really fast, that’s for sure.”
Barnhart doesn’t claim to have the strongest arm, yet he led the major leagues by throwing out 28 runners attempting to steal.
“The last two years I’ve focused on shoring up my footwork,” Barnhart said. “It helps me to be more accurate. My arm is strong enough to play but I have to be accurate to have consistent success.”
Barnhart works daily with Reds catching coordinator Mike Stefanski during the season and with instructor Corky Miller in spring training. But he also credits Mesoraco and Stuart Turner, another Reds catcher, for making him better.
“I can’t thank those guys enough,” said Barnhart, who led the majors with a .999 fielding percentage, a Reds record. He also led the big leagues with 89 assists and the National Leagues with 661 wild pitch-saving blocks of pitches in the dirt.
Barnhart had two errorless streaks, 52 and 57 games, around his lone error.
Then, on top of fatherhood and winning a coveted defensive award, the Reds extended Barnhart’s contract four years in September.
As much as he takes pride in defense, Barnhart’s .270 batting average was a career best. He has set personal batting average highs each of his last three years.
“I’m not a guy who is going to hit 20 home runs,” said Barnhart,who hit seven for the second straight year and added a career-best 24 doubles.
Defense remains his calling card and probably always will.
“There are guys that are take-charge by nature but Tucker falls into the category that he has earned the right to take charge,” manager Bryan Price said. “He is extremely confident in his preparation. He can bring out the best in those that he has the opportunity to catch. That combination makes him elite.”
Barnhart got a chance to show what he could do with Mesoraco limited by injury
“There is so much that goes into becoming a great catcher,” Price said. “What is exciting for me is to see the growth in Tucker in such a short period of time.”