MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Prep star Barnum excited to play in Showcase

Prep star Barnum excited to play in Showcase

LAKELAND, Fla. -- For many young hitters, the idea of facing pitchers throwing in the 90s and going right after you might not sound too exciting. But the very mention of it makes Keon Barnum's eyes light up.

Some of it is the nature of the level of competition at the East Coast Pro Showcase, featuring some of the top high school players who will be eligible for the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. These are players who want to test their abilities against the best that's out there, see how they measure up. A good performance here and at other stops on the summer showcase circuit can bode well for Draft status next June.

But it's more than that for Barnum. The King High School product from Tampa, Fla., is coming off a year where getting pitches to hit were the exception, not the rule. More often than not, opposing coaches, perhaps wisely, opted to walk the 6-foot-4, 225-pound first baseman. It was, to say the least, a test of the 18-year-old's patience.

"It's a little frustrating, but you have to move on," Barnum said. "You have to get what you can get. I'm excited to come to things like this. I get more fastballs. I usually don't get fastballs, but they give them to me now."

Barnum's ability to punish pitches like that is a big reason why he was invited to this, and other, events and why some look at him as a potential first-round pick. He's the type who turns heads during batting practice, the kind of hitter who, after a few swings, made a scout say, "That just has a different sound, doesn't it?"

By now, Barnum is used to that kind of attention. It's become a regular part of his baseball life. At the East Coast Showcase, there are in excess of 300 scouts. That's enough scrutiny to make any player's palms sweat, but Barnum has been able to keep his perspective.

"I just try to block it out, just go out and play and do my thing," Barnum said. "At first, I was a little nervous, with all the scouts out here, but you get used to it after a while."

A good reason for Barnum's nature has to be his father, Keith. A truck driver by trade, the elder Barnum rarely, if ever, misses one of his son's games. He'll twist his schedule and take days off to make sure he monitor his son's progress.

"I work my vacation time around his schedule," Barnum said. "I don't take a vacation. My vacation is watching him play."

Dad used to coach son, up until he was 13 years old, and he's still the one who spends the most time talking about both the physical and mental side of the game. Perhaps more of a shepherd in the past, Barnum now feels very comfortable sitting back and letting his son make the right decisions. He hasn't been let down yet.

"I think his baseball IQ is pretty high and I feel good about how we've prepared him," Keith Barnum said. "I just want him to be himself, be his own man. He's at the point now where I can step back and let him be his own man. He's done a good job of it. I don't have any complaints."

"We've worked toward this point," he said about being at this showcase. "We always try to talk and prepare for the environment, to have fun and play the game. Just keep it natural. I don't want him to put too much pressure on himself. I tell him to kind of zone out, just play the game the way he's been taught to play the game. I don't care if it's one person in the stands or 1,000 people in the stands, you play the game the same way. Mentally, we sit and talk about it, make sure he relaxes. He's done fine. I'm proud of him for how he's handled himself."

The son, in turn, is equally appreciative of how his father's guidance has gotten him to this point. He's fully aware that not every father is, or can be, as involved as his has been, especially not in the overbearing, domineering way that some fathers have become in sports (see Marinovich, Todd).

"That's been very important," Keon Barnum said. "He's helped me a lot. He's been there since I first started, working me hard. He helps me with everything. Anything I have questions on, he answers."

And Keon's not the only one who benefits. There's a younger brother, Kobe, who's 13 and already wears a size 12 shoe. Keon is positive his brother will be even bigger than he is. He also seems to have a bigger personality. Keon is quiet and reserved. But a big smile crosses his face when the subject of his brother making him laugh comes up.

"He's hilarious, he's like a comedian," Keon said about his brother. "He and I have a good bond, like we're best friends."

When it comes to baseball, a game they both love, it's all business, and it's clear the importance of work ethic and attitude that was passed from father to older son is trickling down to Kobe as well.

"I'm trying to work him hard, too," Keon said.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.