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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Young Australian signs with Twins

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

When young Australian first baseman Jack Barrie arrived in Fort Myers, Fla., in late December to take part in the Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event, it marked the first time he had ever visited the United States.

Barrie will make a return trip to the States in late March or early April, and as fate would have it, he’s going to end up right back in Fort Myers. His stay promises to be much longer this time around.

Barrie, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound slugger from Maleny, Queensland, used the occasion of his 18th birthday on Feb. 23 to sign a professional contract with the Minnesota Twins for a reported $250,000. Barrie said the Twins, who have their spring training camp in Fort Myers, also agreed to pay for his college education at any school of his choosing in the event that he is injured or released.

“When I first started to get good (at baseball) I sat down with my mom and we wrote down some future goals … and one of those goals was to sign a professional contract by 2014,” Barrie said in a telephone conversation with PG Thursday morning from his home in Maleny.

It’s been quite a wild two-month ride for the gregarious, out-going Aussie who wears his love and enthusiasm for the game of baseball unabashedly on his sleeve for all to soak in. In three days at the National Underclass-Main Event, he used his out-going personality to make friends easily among the hundreds of prospects in attendance.

After hitting four long home runs at JetBlue Park during batting practice and standing out in other areas during the workouts and in game action, he was named to both the exclusive Top Prospect List and Top Prospect Team at the event.

“That was a great experience. That kind of gave me the confidence boost, if you will,” Barrie said Thursday. “I went there and I was like, ‘I’m not too sure how I match up against these kids and I’m an outsider and I’ve never seen this kind of baseball before.’ I went there and I did all right, I did pretty well, and that was a massive confidence boost for me to know I can compete with these kids; it gives you a peace of mind.”

Barrie didn’t start playing baseball until he was 13 years old after first trying his hand at rugby and soccer. While at the National Underclass-Main Event, he told PG he quit playing rugby because he “didn’t like hurting people that much” and once he started playing baseball he just fell in love with the game.

As his skills improved he wound up in Fort Myers, traveling with his friend Austin Whitehead and Austin’s parents, who moved to Australia a couple of years ago from their home in Pearland, Texas. Barrie’s mother, Nicole, said the PG showcase experience was exactly what her son needed.

“The Perfect Game program has given him so much confidence,” Nicole wrote in an e-mail to PG. “I have nothing but praise for your program and recruiting site. Our boys over here miss out on such wonderful opportunities for not having something like it over here.”

Barrie said that after he returned home to Queensland from the PG National Underclass-Main Event he had about 15 U.S. colleges expressing interest in him. They were all four-year schools, Barrie said, but being and international student he didn’t immediately meet their eligibility standards and would have had to enroll in a junior college to start out, which he wasn’t necessarily opposed to doing.

And then in January, Barrie played in the Australian Under-18 National Championships in Canberra and led the Queensland Bandits to the gold medal. He hit for the cycle in one of the games and was named the event’s Most Valuable Player.

“He just crushed the ball,” Minnesota Twins vice president for player personnel Mike Radcliff told the St. Paul Pioneer Press blog “That was somewhat of a surprise. That stirred everybody up.”

Barrie said he started to hear from more MLB teams, including the Twins, the Texas Rangers, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves.

The Rangers and D-backs offered to send him to the Dominican Republic for 15 days to be evaluated by several of their coaches and scouts, and he took them up on it. Upon returning home, however, he said he was disappointed with each team’s offer, was still considering going to college and kept his options open.

The offer from the Twins ultimately turned out to be just what Barrie was looking for. And now he’ll be returning to Fort Myers where he will first take part in the Twins' extended spring training  at the Lee County Sports Complex before reporting to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

“I just want to get on the plane and get going; I just want to get over there and start playing,” Barrie said with his usual sense of enthusiasm for the game. “I’m tired of sitting here in Australia and I just want to get over there and get started. I’m ecstatic; I’m so excited. This is all my dreams come true.”

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