PHILADELPHIA -- Brandon Barnes had been a Major Leaguer since 2013 and Wilin Rosario since '12, yet each was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque this season. Such a demotion challenges a player's attitude and work ethic, but both came through it better players.
Sent down to begin the season because the Rockies decided to go with four outfielders, Barnes batted .205 with Albuquerque, but he used the time to become comfortable with new batting mechanics. He has hit .429 with a 1.074 OPS, and he has a hit in seven of his nine games since being recalled.
Sent down on April 22 because Colorado needed an extra relief pitcher, Rosario batted .343 in nine Minor League games while playing regularly at a new position, first base. Interestingly, Barnes lost his season-opening spot because the Rox kept Rosario as a third catcher and tried to teach him first base on the run. Since his return, Rosario has hit .281 and slugged .404 in 15 games of regular duty at first.
Many players spend the early part of their Major League careers shuttling to Triple-A and back. But Barnes and Rosario made it and stuck, so the demotion hit hard.
Barnes, 29, struggled to a .229 average in Spring Training, but last season, he led the Majors in pinch-hits with 17 and runs from pinch-hit appearances with 12. After years of being overlooked in the Astros' system until finally getting his chance, it was a flashback.
"That was by far the hardest test I've had to deal with in professional baseball," said Barnes, whom the Rockies acquired in a trade before last season. "Going through the Minor Leagues for 7 1/2 years, I had no idea what the big leagues were like, didn't even know if I could play in the big leagues. But being in the big leagues for 2 1/2 years, knowing I could play here, it was a test, not physically, but more mentally and emotionally."
Rosario, 26, was the team's primary catcher since being called up from Double-A in 2012, but veteran free-agent signee Nick Hundley supplanted him this year. In the season's first two weeks, Rosario performed well as a pinch-hitter, but Justin Morneau was healthy so he didn't play much at first base.
"When they said that to me, I kind of felt a little bit of shock," Rosario said. "But then we talked. And I want to play. The only way that you're going to get better is to play. So I took the change to go down there."
Each day in the Minors is a day less of Major League service time and a day for far less than the big league salary. It's also a day out of a lifestyle that teams make sure is better than first class, which Rosario found motivating.
"You're not going to have as comfortable a flight," Rosario said. "After the game, you have to go straight to the airport and get checked in and do all those things -- taking off your shoes, same process like normal traveling people. But if you get too comfortable down there, you're going to stay down there."
Being in Triple-A also tests a player's willingness to be a good co-worker. Is a player envious enough to wish misfortune on the big club for his own opportunity? That would be a poisonous attitude that is bound to catch up with the player.
"I watched the big club every day, but more because I care about these guys, wanted them to succeed," Barnes said. "Even though I wasn't there, I wanted to support them, see what they were doing, see where I could help in certain areas and make sure I was ready for when I did get back."