Brandon Barnes has been chasing his dream of playing in the big leagues long enough to know that nothing is guaranteed in the Minor Leagues except for long bus rides and a chance to prove what he can do.
Barnes has been plugging away in the Astros' Minor League system since being drafted in 2005, and last weekend he got promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City after playing the first two months of the season at Double-A Corpus Christi.
Barnes, 26, isn't on anyone's list of top prospects, but he's a favorite in the organization because of his work ethic and team-first mentality. He joined his teammates Sunday in Albuquerque after hitting .317 with seven homers, 31 RBIs and a .944 OPS in 44 games for the Hooks.
"It's always nice to be that one step away," Barnes said. "It's been a long road for me in the Minor Leagues so far and I've never given up. I want to keep my dream of getting to the big leagues. It's been my dream since I was four years old. If you get the chance to go to Triple-A and prove you can play at this level, you might get a chance to play in the Major Leagues."
Astros director of player development Fred Nelson lauded Barnes' overall makeup and defensive abilities, saying it's his offense that has held him back. Nelson said returning to Triple-A, where Barnes hit .197 in 71 games last year, will be a good test to see what kind of progress he's made.
With outfielder Justin Ruggiano getting traded to the Marlins on Saturday, that opened up an outfield spot for Barnes, a right-handed hitter joining a pretty left-handed dominant lineup.
"He was there last year and was well-liked and he was well-liked in Spring Training [in Major League camp]," Nelson said. "He's still a guy that's got some tools. He's one of the best defensive outfielders we have in the organization and he's got power and has the ability to drive the ball into the gaps and produce some runs. I think it will be a good challenge for him to go back to Triple-A and see if that time he spent back in Double-A last year and this year allowed him to make some adjustments in his overall plan, maybe his pitch selection."
When he wasn't able to get a job playing winter ball in Latin America last winter, Barnes spent six weeks in Australia playing for the Sydney Blue Sox of the six-team Australian Baseball League. He hit a combined .238 last year between Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City.
"I worked on a lot of things in the offseason," Barnes said. "I knew I had to fix my swing and my mental approach. The time I went to Australia and in Major League camp this year, I really worked on stuff in Spring Training and it helped me make adjustments at the plate, and I'm ready to prove to everybody I can play at the Triple-A level and the big league level."