Though he was initially expected to serve in a backup capacity, Tucker Barnhart was pushed to the primary role behind the plate following another injury to Devin Mesoraco. Barnhart ended up starting 106 games behind the dish for the Reds in 2016, doing a serviceable job at the plate with career-best marks in average, home runs and RBI. True to his career form, the switch-hitter was much better hitting from the left side, as he hit .271 against righties compared to just .207 against southpaws. Mesoraco is expected to return to full-time catching duties in 2017, but Barnhart will be waiting in the wings in case Mesoraco's injury issues rear their ugly head yet again.
Barnhart (back) will catch and bat sixth in the lineup in Sunday's Cactus League game against the Rockies, MLB.com's Thomas Harding reports. Barnhart hadn't played since Tuesday while battling a sore back, but all he needed was a few days off to recover from the issue. The 26-year-old may receive a decent amount of playing time to open the regular season as Cincinnati tests Devin Mesoraco's ability to handle a steady workload. However, the ideal plan calls for Barnhart to serve as backup with both healthy.
Barnhart is out of Thursday's lineup with lower-back stiffness but, according to manager Bryan Price, should play this weekend, Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reports. The issue doesn't appear serious, though it's worth watching as third-stringer Stuart Turner takes his place. Barnhart is likely to make the Opening Day roster if healthy and start most games while the Reds preserve Devin Mesoraco early in the season. If the latter can handle a starter's workload as the campaign wears on, however, Barnhart will lose plenty of reps. He may help fantasy owners in two-catcher mixed leagues during the spring, though.
Barnhart is going to play often early in the 2017 season, but he's expected to return to backup duties if Devin Mesoraco proves he can handle a starter's workload, Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Barnhart is probably the safer selection to start the campaign, though a healthy, active Mesoraco has much more upside, especially with home runs. Of course, the latter holds plenty of risk. If fantasy players in two-catcher leagues can handcuff this situation, that could save a lot of headaches, though that plan doesn't always lead to a comfortable roster.
Barnhart is working on his pitch-framing skills this spring, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Barnhart isn't necessarily a bad receiver, but he was rated by Baseball Prospectus as costing the Reds 4.4 runs last season. That puts him a little below average, but not so egregious that it will cost him much playing time.
Barnhart will split catching duties with Devin Mesoraco, Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reports. Manager Bryan Price says he expects Mesoraco to play no more than "50 to 60 percent on the front end of the season," which could spell good news for Barnhart. The young catcher failed to capitalize on his opportunities last season, slashing .257/.323/379 in 115 games behind the plate. Nonetheless, with Mesoraco easing back into catching activities, Barnhart should have further chances to impress in a part-time role.