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'Special cat' Barnum brings it

Showcase : : Story
Jeff Dahn        
Published: Thursday, June 16, 2011

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Tampa (Fla.) King High School slugger Keon Barnum doesn’t like wasting precious energy on words. Words, after all, aren’t what make baseballs “jump hard off the bat,” like a 2010 Perfect Game scouting report said is what happens when Barnum connects with a pitch.

Former Major League outfielder Reggie Williams coaches Barnum during the summer with Dawg Pound Baseball, and said in a telephone interview from Tampa:  “I’ve been around Keon since he was 11 years old, and he’s probably only said 11 words.”

No, Barnum prefers to let his big bat do the talking.

A 6-4, 225-pound power-hitting first baseman, Barnum is among the 270 top prospects from the high school class of 2012 who will gather at City of Palms Park from Thursday through Sunday for the 11th annual Perfect Game National Showcase, the most prestigious showcase event on amateur baseball’s calendar.

Barnum did find enough words to express his hopes of performing well on such an over-sized stage in front of more than 100 professional scouts and college coaches.

“It’s a good opportunity to play against good competition,” he said before taking BP during Thursday’s workout session. “I’m just going to go out there and play my game and see what happens. I want to go out there and rip the ball and show my power off.”

Barnum got in front of a lot of scouts at the 2010 PG Junior National Showcase at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg last June, and has played in 12 PG WWBA tournaments since 2008, most of them with Williams’ Dawg Pound organization.

He is Perfect Game’s No. 17-ranked national prospect in the class of 2012, No. 6 in Florida and the No. 1-ranked first baseman. During Thursday morning’s workout session, Barnum showed off his strong arm with a 90 mph throw across the infield.

Williams said that because Barnum is soft-spoken, too many people think he lacks the aggressiveness required to play the game of baseball. Williams said those people are badly mistaken.

“I’ve had a lot of kids come through (Dawg Pound) and he’s really special,” Williams said. “His make-up is off the charts, and I can’t say enough about him. The ball comes off his bat different (than other hitters). He can come across as non-aggressive, but once he gets on that field he’s very aggressive. He’s aggressive in his approach and his mentality, but he’s just not a real rah-rah guy.

“Once you’re around him and you see how he attacks the games and attacks the baseball, you’ll say, ‘Wow, man, now I understand.’ Keon is a special cat, man.”

Tampa, which is the home of the New York Yankees’ spring training facility, is well known as a hot-bed for high school-aged baseball talent. Barnum has grown up with the game.

“I’ve been playing baseball since I was four years old and I haven’t missed one year,” he said. “I’ve been playing all my life and it’s a part of me now.”

He has developed into a player Williams calls “polished” and one he compares to some pretty notable big-league players.

“He’s something; he’s special, man,” Williams said. “I have never met Jason Heyward in person but Keon kind of reminds me of him. I also want to say Fred McGriff, but I think he’s more athletic than Fred.”

Williams also thinks Barnum’s participation in the PG National Showcase will prove to be tremendously beneficial to not only Barnum, but to all the top prospects in attendance.

“When you have guys like (PG president) Jerry Ford helping these young guys get an opportunity to get on that stage in front of major people, it’s pretty awesome,” he said. “I played Major League ball and I never got in front of all those people at one time. It’s unbelievable to have that situation down there.”

Barnum agreed: “It’s pretty fun, it’s pretty cool to see all these new kids, new faces and meet new people,” he said. “It’s pretty good.”

And with that, Barnum had said enough.

 “He doesn’t say much, but boy does he bring it when those lights come on,” Williams said. “He’s got a special bat.”

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