Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman's continuing series of stories profiling some of the KC Royals organization's top prospects. Up today is pitcher Mason Barnett.
More than a handful of prospects will join the plentiful pack of players the KC Royals plan to welcome to spring training next month. Like Nick Loftin, whose brief but promising introduction to the majors last season helps explain why MLB Pipeline considers him the club's fifth-best prospect, some of those players are more than just familiar to Royals fans.
Others, though, are not so well-known, and will be in big league camp thanks to the non-roster invitations the club recently issued to some of its potential stars in the making. Included in that elite group is Mason Barnett, a righthanded starting pitcher Kansas City picked in the third round of the 2022 amateur draft, and who Pipeline ranks 12th among the club's prospects.
And although he's spent less than two full seasons in pro ball, Barnett deserves his invitation.
Mason Barnett is making strides in the minor leagues
Barnett's first professional outing came over a month after the Royals drafted him when he pitched a scoreless, hitless inning in the Complex League. Wasting no time moving him up, Kansas City immediately assigned him to Single-A Columbia for what remained of the season, and he fared quite well — in three relief appearances covering seven innings, Barnett struck out 11, didn't yield a single run, and walked only one.
Despite Barnett's brief introduction to pro ball, the Royals bumped him up to High-A to begin the 2023 campaign, and there he posted a respectable 3.18 ERA and went 4-6 in 16 starts. Although he walked a few too many batters (4.17 BB/9), his other numbers were generally good: he struck out 94 in 82 innings (10.32 K/9), had a 1.18 WHIP, and held opposing hitters to a .203 average.
Clearly liking what they saw, the Royals promoted Barnett to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in early August. In seven starts and 32.2 innings, he went 2-1, 3.58, posted a better 3.31 BB/9, fanned 43, and had a 1.19 WHIP and .218 OBA. Combined with his Columbia performance, those stats gave Barnett a season record of 6-7, 3.30 with a 10.75 K/9, 3.92 BB/9, 1.19 WHIP, and .208 OBA, and were good enough for the organization to name him winner of the Paul Splittorff Pitcher of the Year Award as its top minor league hurler.
Predicting Mason Barnett's 2024 season with the KC Royals organization
Look for Barnett and his four-pitch fastball, curve, slider and changeup repertoire to open the season back at Northwest Arkansas. The seven games he pitched for the Naturals simply aren't enough at Double-A, so he'll need more time in the Texas League.
That doesn't mean, though, that Barnett won't get promoted again in 2024. Assuming he continues to pitch well — and that seems a pretty safe assumption considering how he's performed so far — look for him to continue his so-far rapid progression and end up at Triple-A Omaha before the season ends.