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The Road to The Show™: Astros’ Barber

Houston’s No. 3 prospect getting closer to lift-off after injuries
Astros prospect Colin Barber has been limited by injuries to 117 professional games since he was drafted in 2019. (John Moore/MiLB.com)
@Gerard_Gilberto
10:15 AM EDT

Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken toward achieving his Major League dream. Here's a look at third-ranked Astros prospect Colin Barber. For more stories about players on The Road to The Show, click here. A series of injuries has severely limited the beginning

Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken toward achieving his Major League dream. Here's a look at third-ranked Astros prospect Colin Barber. For more stories about players on The Road to The Show, click here.

A series of injuries has severely limited the beginning of Colin Barber’s professional career, but the 22-year-old never fell too far behind the curve.

Barber opened the 2023 season with Double-A Corpus Christi, where he’s considerably younger than the Texas League average. Though he hasn’t gotten off to the hottest of starts, there’s reason to believe he'll figure out the Minors’ upper levels -- and there’s plenty of time to do so.

Since being drafted in 2019, Barber has played a total of 117 games. He debuted in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League but had his first full season delayed by the pandemic. Shoulder surgery sidelined him for all but 16 games for High-A Asheville in 2021, and the effects of the injury persisted into the following season. He played just 66 games last season -- all but three coming with the Tourists -- as an ankle issue added to his troubles.

That missed time has prevented him from living up to his amateur profile. As a high schooler, Barber was viewed as a center fielder with easy 20-20 potential, showing a knack for consistently barreling up pitches with his quick swing and flashing above-average speed in the 60-yard dash. But so far in the Minors, the production in each of those categories has been stunted. He has just 12 homers and 10 stolen bases in his career, and he’s seen more time in the corner outfield than center.

Barber’s amateur career at Pleasant Valley High School in Chico, California, was as tumultuous as his early professional tenure. After bursting onto the scene as a freshman, he lost most of his sophomore year to a broken leg. He continued to impress when he returned to the field but had to navigate showcase events as an upperclassman while the Camp Fire did some severe damage to his hometown.

But just as he’s done in limited opportunities in the Minors and at the club’s alternate site, Barber has given the Astros reason to believe in his potential.

The club went well above slot to land Barber after selecting him in the fourth round. The Paradise, California native was ticketed for the University of Oregon, but Houston used every dime of its bonus pool savings from below-slot deals with seven of their first 10 picks and convinced Barber to forgo his commitment and sign for a reported $1 million, about $589,000 above slot value.

"The bat is really the big attraction," Charles Cook, who was then the Astros’ manager of amateur scouting analysis, told reporters when Barber signed. "He has a compact swing, plus raw power for a high school kid, and he does it in a way that's simple and clean. There's not a whole lot of extra movements to create the power. He's a strong kid. The power and center field combination is a big attraction."

Barber actually had a trouble-free start to his professional career after signing. He played in 28 games in that first GCL season, batting .263/.387/.394 with eight extra-base hits, six RBIs, 19 walks and 19 runs scored. The performance earned Barber a spot on the Astros’ alternate site roster as a 19-year-old,. and he made an immediate impression with his first swing in an intrasquad game, pulling a long homer through the wind in right field.

Barber was granted permission to play in the independent tournament, the City of Champions Cup, at the end of the summer. He was one of the younger players in the league and didn’t produce great results, but he got 85 plate appearances in game situations at a time when those were hard to come by.

When the Minors resumed in 2021, the Astros were aggressive with Barber’s assignment to Asheville. He, of course, was shut down after suffering the initial shoulder injury, which came from an awkward landing on a diving attempt at a line drive during a game. He showed some promise in that limited sample before the surgery, clubbing three homers, drawing nine walks and maintaining an .817 OPS.

Barber seemed ready for a full, healthy season the following spring. He arrived at camp noticeably stronger and faster with an adjusted swing.

“His swing looks the best it has since he’s been with us,” former Astros player development director Pete Putila, who is now the Giants' general manager, told MLB.com. “He did a lot of top-hand work, trying to keep his top hand up through contact instead of rolling over. Looks to have paid off. He’s real physical, too, and has a little bit of [Alex] Bregman in him. He’s real determined. He’s on a mission.”

Barber enjoyed three healthy months to start last season and was excellent in that first half. He batted .306/.414/.475 with seven homers, 32 RBIs, 27 walks and 28 runs scored over the first 55 games with the Tourists. But he hit the injured list just before the All-Star break and missed about six weeks of South Atlantic League action before returning at the end of August.

A full, healthy season would obviously be the goal for Barber in 2023. Despite the missed time, reaching Double-A at his age puts the Astros' No. 3 prospect in a good place in his development.

Each of the defending champs’ top four prospects are outfielders, and the club still has Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker under team control through at least 2025. There might be some natural pressure for Barber to feel that he has to make up for lost time. But there’s no reason to rush his potential breakout.

Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.