Barco 'pumped' for Petco

Photo: Hunter Barco (Perfect Game)

Jeff Dahn
Published: Thursday, August 2, 2018

See also: Classic supports Rady Children's Hospital

The place was the jetBlue Park Player Development Complex in Fort Myers, Fla., a perfect piece of real estate to be occupying in the four days after Christmas, just about a year-and-a-half ago now.

The occasion was the 2016 Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event and hundreds of the country’s top rising underclassmen from the classes of 2018 and 2019 were in attendance.

There amongst the gathering was Hunter Barco, a top two-way prospect from Jacksonville, Fla., who had celebrated his 16th birthday two weeks earlier. He’s 17½ now and is still listed at 6-foot-3, 190-pounds, just like he was at the Main Event.

Barco didn’t pitch at that showcase, deciding instead to show the scouts his prowess as a hitter and a position player. He was the No. 1-ranked left-handed pitcher in the class of 2019 at the time (he remains in that spot today), didn’t throw a pitch and was still included on the event’s Top Prospect List. He realized even then he was on a special path and his progression was going to be monitored every step of the way.

“You look at where your game started and you look at each thing – velocity, hitting, everything – when you first started Perfect Game,” Barco said in late December 2016. “It’s good how they keep track of it all so you can see where you’re at, how far you’ve come and just where you want to be.”

Hunter Barco has come a long way, and now that he’s about to begin his senior year at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, he’s beginning to reap the rewards for the labors of love he’s put in on the baseball field.

A left-handed pitcher/first baseman/outfielder and a recent Florida commit, Barco is ranked the No. 7 overall national prospect in the class of 2019. He is likely the most heralded baseball player to come out of The Bolles School since newly inducted hall-of-famer Chipper Jones graduated from there nearly 30 years ago.

After another summer spent playing with his beloved East Cobb Astros and a standout performance at the PG National Showcase in June, Barco learned a few weeks ago that he been selected to be a member of the East team at upcoming 16th annual Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego. The Classic, which benefits Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, will be play Aug. 12 and televised live on the MLB Network.

“I’m so pumped for it. I’ve wanted to do it ever since I knew about the event when some of my friends played in it … and it’s incredible that I get the opportunity to do it now,” Barco told PG last week, naming former PG All-Americans Kendall Logan Simmons, Hunter Greene and MacKenzie Gore as guys he followed with interest in recent years.

He’s certainly seen a lot great players make their way to the PGAAC before him, and he’s gone above and beyond on his way to replicating their achievements. Barco has participated in more than 40 Perfect Game events, most of them WWBA and BCS tournaments with the EC Astros, playing frequently for Guerry and Kevin Baldwin. He’s been named to 12 PG all-tournament teams while wearing an Astros uniform.

“They’ve been like family to me ever since I started playing with them (fall of 2015),” Barco said of the people at Georgia-based East Cobb Baseball. “They’ve been nothing but the best to me and anytime that I’ve needed them, they’ve been there for me. I’m glad to have played for them; there’s no one else that I would have rather played for.”

Playing non-stop through the spring high school season and into the summer travel ball season can become a grind even for a teen-aged player, but Barco has learned how to make sure he’s prepared. He stays in shape which in turn helps him stay healthy, the key to any successful baseball career.

He’s also learned to manage his time while juggling schoolwork, homework and baseball and has been especially pleased with way his mental approach to the game has developed. He knows, appreciates and considers himself lucky that he is a young man playing a kid’s game, and he’s accepted the fact that it’s a game of failure; the best players find a way to move beyond the failure and thrive.

“Your body will get tired physically but it’s the mental part that keeps you going,” Barco said. “When you’re (younger) your body doesn’t really get tired – you’re just out there having fun – but as you get older … you really have to train your brain to learn to push through and keep doing what you love doing.”

Barco has enjoyed a terrific career to date at The Bolles since starting his tenure on the Bulldogs’ varsity unit as an eighth-grader. He’s helped the program reach three straight Florida High School Athletic Association Class 5A state championship games (champions 2016-17, runner-up ’18) and was named the 5A Player of the Year this spring. He’s a combined 30-4 as a pitcher, including an 11-0 mark in the state playoffs.

“It’s a great program and the best part about it is there’s always a chip on our shoulder,” Barco said of the The Bolles team he is a part of, one coached by former big-leaguer Mike Boswell. “There’s always a target on our backs and everybody always wants to beat us. … That’s what makes us so good because starting in the fall when we’re working, we know that everybody’s out to get us.”

He is determined to remain a two-way player for as long as his coaches permit it. Pitching was his priority early in his career and it is his left arm that has earned him the high national ranking – and the PGAAC invitation – but he does hit the ball well and plays solid defense when fielding a position. He was 27-for-79 (.342) with 17 extra-base hits (4 HRs) and a team-high 28 RBI for Bolles (24-6) this spring.

The scouting report from the PG National noted Barco’s “very projectable athletic build” who “works quickly and attacks hitters” from the mound. He’s also a left-handed hitter “with a smooth and easy swing” who is “looking to drive the ball in the air.”

Barco originally committed to Virginia in 2016 but backed away from that in June and committed to Florida. He said that Gators’ head coach Kevin O’Sullivan offered him the scholarship as a two-way player and he embraced the opportunity.

“That was a big part of me finding a college, was them letting me do both,” he said. “Florida just seemed like the better option for me because it’s closer to home, and me and my family decided that Florida would be a better fit. The academics is definitely a big part of it and the baseball program is to; you can’t argue with what (O’Sullivan) has done.”

The results from the 2019 MLB June Amateur Draft will have a lot to say about whether or not Barco makes it Gainesville in the summer or fall of 2019, and while he admits that he thinks about every time he reads another “draft preview” he also knows that none of the speculation matters one bit. He’s content to just keep working hard right up until that day comes.

The PG All-American Classic will be played at the Padres’ Petco Park in downtown San Diego for the 10th straight year and this year will be a part of an MLB-PG double-header; the Padres host the Phillies for a 1:10 p.m. (PDT) game to be followed by the Classic at approximately 5:20 p.m.

Barco said playing on the game’s biggest stages usually brings out his best, and while the stages don’t get much bigger for an amateur player than Petco Park, there’s more to the Classic than Petco.

“Visiting (Rady Children’s) hospital is something bigger than baseball,” he said. “You get to give back to the kids who can’t play the game that you love, or at least they can’t right now. It’s going to be fun going out to the beach and hanging out with all the friends that you’ve grown up playing against for the last two or three years, and best of all you get to go play baseball while you’re there.”

It is his parents, Barry and Robin Barco, who Hunter gives “100 percent” of the credit to for his development as a student and young man, first, and also as a ballplayer. They’ve made sure he was where he needed to be in order to take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself, and they’ve always had his back every step of the way.

Barry, a contractor who was the kicker on the Florida State football team in the early 1980s, and Robin, an attorney, were with Hunter at the PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event in late December 2016. During a chat with PG at that time, Barry, too, seemed to realize the importance of the showcase experience and where his son’s participation at the event might one day lead.

“It’s all about confidence; it’s wanting to be the best and then feeling like you can be there,” he said at the time. “(Hunter) lives the game (and) he wants to be an MLB player … and he’s got a good mentality.”

Next stop, San Diego …

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