Tyler Barnette knows that if he continues to make the climb toward Major League Baseball, he may have to leave North Carolina for more than a few months at a time. So far, most of the major steps he’s taken in his career have kept him in the Tar Heel state.
A native of Hickory and graduate of Hickory High, Barnette played three years in college for the Charlotte 49ers. In last June’s first-year player draft, he was selected in the 14th round by the Chicago White Sox, who have three of their top four minor league affiliates located in North Carolina.
After spending the rest of last summer in rookie ball in Bristol, Va. – 30 miles from the North Carolina border – Barnette has started his first full minor league season with the Kannapolis Intimidators of the low Class A South Atlantic League. The Intimidators play at CMC-NorthEast Stadium, which is a 25-minute drive from the UNC Charlotte campus.
The White Sox’ high class A affiliate is in Winston-Salem and their Triple A team is in Charlotte. Birmingham, Ala., is home to the Sox’s Double A franchise.
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“Me and my dad had a conversation (before the draft),” said Barnette, a 6-foot-3 right handed pitcher. “My dad said most of the affiliates are in North Carolina. I didn’t really know that. That’s a positive for the White Sox organization. I really wanted to be on the White Sox once I heard that. I’m glad they drafted me and it’s good to be home.”
Barnette has had a solid start to his 2014 season. Through Kannapolis’ first 15 games, Barnette has pitched in three of them, all in relief.
In nine innings, Barnette has not allowed a run. He has given up six hits and one walk and has struck out four batters. During an April 13 outing against Greenville, Barnette pitched five shutout innings.
Although he was primarily a starting pitcher throughout high school, in his Charlotte 49ers career, and in his first pro season at Bristol, Barnette says that White Sox minor league pitching coordinator Curt Hasler told him he would be moved to a reliever’s role this year.
“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” said Intimidators manager Pete Rose Jr. “I’ve seen nothing but good things. I love the way he battles. I love the way he pitches. I love the way he goes about his work. He’s a blue collar kind of guy; one of my guys.”
Barnette was scheduled to make a start on April 19 but the game was postponed by rain. Rose said White Sox brass give him direction on how to use players, such as determining if pitchers will be starters or relievers.
Last year wasn’t the first time Barnette was drafted. He was picked in the ninth round by the Boston Red Sox out of high school, but opted to play in college. Charlotte head coach Loren Hibbs said he anticipated that Barnette would be selected in his first year of eligibility in college.
“He’s just a quality guy,” said Hibbs. “I think with pro ball, he can focus just on baseball. The potential is there. It’s just a matter of being consistent from inning to inning and batter to batter. Once he does that, he can move up through the system and I hope that happens.”
Now in his 22nd year at Charlotte, Hibbs believes this is the first time a former 49er has played for the Intimidators or its predecessors, the Piedmont Boll Weevils and Piedmont Phillies.
Spring training this season started tragically for Barnette and his family. In March, an hour-and-a-half after he got settled into his Glendale, Ariz., hotel room, Barnette received a phone call from his brother Craig telling him that their brother Jordan had been killed in a single vehicle motorcycle accident in Hickory.
Barnette took a week off to attend the funeral.
“We were actually really close,” said Barnette. “In the off-season we got to hang out every night. The last couple months I got to be really close to him. I got to say bye to him the morning I left.”
Earlier this month, shortly after the Intimidators broke camp and returned to Kannapolis, Barnette made a stop on campus to visit his former 49er teammates. He cherishes the idea of having his friends and family close enough to come watch him play in Kannapolis.
“My family’s only an hour away,” said Barnette. “UNC Charlotte is 20 minutes away. I got a lot of phone calls before the first game asking for tickets. My family is always going to be around me and my friends are always going to be around me. They’re just around the corner. It’s definitely a big benefit.”
Track and field
Several 49ers won their events at the Charlotte Invitational April 18-19.
They included: Taylor Carcella (800 meters), Lauren Pollard (3,000-meter steeplechase), Morgan Richards (5,000 meters), Katrina Wright (discus), Jamil Muhammad-Ray (200 meters), Daniel Freeman (javelin), and Dejah Hayes (long jump).